The rise in ocean temperatures is leading to an increase in bacterial infections from eating raw seafood, a new study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds.
The study found that the higher water temperatures in the North Atlantic are more hospitable for Vibrio bacteria, many of which can make people very sick.
While there are several different genus of Vibrio, Vibrio vulnificus is among the most dangerous.
"Vibrio vulnificus, it's one of the scarier bacteria out there," Dr. Cahoon, a professor of biology and marine biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, told AccuWeather.
"People with compromised immune systems, post-surgical patients, people taking immune-suppressing medications, they can't fight off the infection that well," he said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of reported Vibrio cases has risen over the last several years. In 2012, the number of reported cases was 944. In 2014, 1,252 were reported.
Once infected, symptoms tend to mimic that of food poisoning. Many cases largely go unreported.
While Vibrio vulnificus has been a problem mostly along the Gulf coast over the years, the study found that there has been an increase in infections in the North Atlantic as the oceans get warmer.
However, the spread of this disease can't solely be traced back to the rise in sea temperatures.
"You've got a combination of factors there, the presence of more people along the coastline, contributing extra waste and nutrients [to the sea water]," Cahoon said.
Much of the shellfish contamination comes from sewer runoff and septic tank runoff, Cahoon said. The more bacteria in the water, the more shellfish become infected, and thus the more people become ill when they eat them raw.
"[With climate change], not only does it get warmer overall, it gets rainier," Cahoon said. "The more extreme rain events... those are becoming more frequent, and these are the ones that cause waste systems to fail."
Cahoon said that because of the increase in rain, the sewer systems are overloaded, "and so we're seeing a lot more runoff in general and lot more contamination."
There are several ways for the bacteria to infect people. Predominantly, people become sick from eating raw shellfish, but others can come in contact with Vibro vulficus from swimming in contaminated waters.
"That's why authorities warn people 'do not swim in flood water,'" Cahoon said. "It may look like fun, but that water is almost certainly contaminated with fecal material."
As of right now, there aren't many solutions to the growing problem at this time as scientists continue to look for new ways to fight climate change.
"It's nature, and it's hard to regulate nature," Cahoon said.