Media Release

Department of Health

Alert to People Heading Onto the Water this Easter Weekend

23 March 2016

Recreational fishers and others heading out on the water are being warned to be careful with skin protection following a cluster of severe infections caused by Vibrio bacteria. Vibrio bacteria are found in brackish waters across the Top End and can cause severe and even fatal infections, especially in those with poor immune systems and liver disease.

“This bacteria can easily enter the body through broken skin and rapidly establish an infection,” said Dr Vicki Krause, Director of Centre for Disease Control.

“We have seen three severe infections diagnosed in the last three weeks, which have been the first cases since April last year and were acquired from various localities across the Top End from the Kimberly to the Gulf of Carpentaria.”

People with poor immunity, particularly those with liver disease such as cirrhosis or with abnormally high iron levels are most at risk. The bacteria usually enters the body via cuts or abrasions exposed to sea water, or through ingesting contaminated food or water. The infection can start as a wound infection and can quickly spread to cause overwhelming and life-threatening bloodstream infection. Once established, bloodstream infection with Vibrio bacteria has a 50 per cent mortality even with the best treatment.

Everyone who comes into contact with water from rivers, estuaries or the Gulf should observe the following tips:

  • ensure good skin protection by wearing adequate footwear and long-sleeves and long trousers.
  • avoid exposure of open wounds or broken skin to sea or river water.
  • anyone with compromised immune systems, particularly those with any form of liver disease or iron overload (e.g. haemochromatosis) should minimise contact with rivers, estuaries or the coastal waters.
  • thoroughly cook all seafood caught in coastal and estuarine waters.
  • do not eat any locally caught raw oysters or other raw shellfish.
  • avoid contaminating other food when handling raw shellfish.

More information on Vibrio bacteria can be found at Centre of Disease Control