Flesh-Eating Tar Balls Found In Gulf of Mexico

The numbers show that more people have been contracting the flesh-eating bacteria known as “Vibrio vulnificus” than in past years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,111 people were reported to have the bacteria Vibriosis that includes Vibrio vulnificus in 2012. This is significantly higher than the 588 people that contracted the bacteria in 2008. This increase coincides with the BP oil rig explosion and oil spill that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in April of 2010, and there is a question as to whether or not the oil spill is contributing to the increase. A Research Study of Tar Balls, Seawater and Sand One professor of microbial genomics at Alabama’s Auburn University, Covadonga Arias conducted a study of the tar balls that were situated along the Gulf Coast after the oil spill occurred. This study was the first of its kind of the “weathered oil” that was known to come directly from the BP Deep Water Horizon spill. Arias, Stephen Bullard and Zhen Tao traveled to one beach in Alabama and two of Mississippi’s beaches to collect tar balls, seawater and sand for analysis from July until October in 2010. The team’s research demonstrated that the tar balls had the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria in concentrations that were 10 times higher than was found in the seawater and the sand. Arias and her colleagues subsequently published their results in EcoHealth in 2011. They believe that their research has “epidemiological relevance” because many visitors to the beaches in question have come in contact with tar balls by stepping on them or picking them up. An Opposing View Even so, the Alabama Department of Public Health’s deputy director for medical affairs Dr. Thomas Miller stated an opposing position in a 2012 letter to BP. In his correspondence, Dr. Miller wrote, “There is no epidemiologic evidence to indicate increased rates of Vv (Vibriosis vulnificus) infections. Analysis of current and previous years’ Vv case numbers indicates there is no increase in the number of cases for years 2010-2012.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Steps In The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was asked to review whether or not exposure to tar balls posed an increased risk to humans for the Vibrio vulnificus infection. The NOAA did find that the numbers of Vibrio infections have increased significantly in the recent past. However, the administration also found that there was a 78 percent increase of these infections between 1996 and 2006. With regard to Arias, Bullard and Tao’s research, the NOAA stated that an increase in Vibrio vulnificus in seawater, sand and tar balls is not a surprising find. However, officials with the administration do not understand why the bacteria would be at such high levels in these oil sources. They could not definitively state that the tar balls are not posing a risk to public health. The CDC’s Findings To answer the question above, the administration asked the CDC to review its surveillance data of the Vibriosis bacteria. In a memo, the CDC stated, “Incidence rates of vibriosis in the year before (2009) and the year after (2010) the Deepwater Horizon oil spill were compared and no significant difference in incidence was found.” Is It Time to Contact a Lawyer? If you have been affected by the BP oil spill, a BP oil spill lawyer is ready to help you present your claim so that you can receive monetary compensation. If you are a seaman or an oil platform worker who has been hurt in a work-related incident and are not obtaining relief from your employers, the best thing you could do is hire a Jones Act and maritime attorney. Work injury lawyers are prepared to take this matter to court and help you receive payment for medical bills, future medical treatment and even pain and suffering.