What Is Vibriosis?

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Vibriosis is a bacterial infection caused by two different modes of transmission. Eating raw or undercooked shellfish or when an open wound comes into contact with the bacteria. The infection comes from the Vibrio bacteria, which naturally live in coastal saltwater areas and brackish waters where saltwater meets freshwater.

There are two types of illnesses that the Vibrio bacteria can cause, vibriosis and cholera. Most vibriosis infections are caused by two specific types of Vibrio bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus or Vibrio parahaemolyticus.

The bacteria are more abundant when the water is warmer, with 80% of vibriosis infections occurring from May through October.

This article discusses the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment for vibriosis.



Vibriosis Symptoms

When eaten, vibriosis is a food-borne illness that results in intestinal symptoms. Symptoms typically begin 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food.

Vibriosis cases are usually mild but can become severe in people with weakened immune systems. Symptoms can include:

When the Vibrio bacteria comes into contact with an open wound, it can cause a serious skin infection. The symptoms include pain, redness, and swelling of the wound.


If the bacteria enters the bloodstream, it can cause a life-threatening illness.


Vibriosis is usually caused by eating raw or undercooked shellfish that are contaminated with the Vibrio bacteria. But it can also be caused by eating shellfish that were not handled or refrigerated correctly.

It is typically seen in oysters but can be found in other bivalve shellfish like clams and mussels.

Vibriosis skin infections are caused by an open wound or cut on the body where the Vibrio bacteria can enter. People with underlying medical conditions or weakened immune systems are much more likely to get seriously ill from vibriosis.

Is It Safe to Eat Shellfish?

Avoid eating undercooked or raw shellfish if you have a weakened immune system or an underlying medical condition. You are more likely to become seriously ill from a vibriosis infection.


To diagnose vibriosis, a healthcare provider will ask about recent medical history and diet. Any recent consumption of shellfish or exposure to salt water is important to disclose.

Intestinal symptoms, like diarrhea, are also clues that point to a vibriosis infection. To confirm the diagnosis a healthcare provider can have a stool culture sent to test for the bacteria.

If a healthcare provider suspects that vibriosis has spread to the blood, then a blood culture can be ordered.


Most cases of vibriosis are mild and can be treated at home. Home treatment for intestinal illness should focus on drinking plenty of water to replace fluids lost through diarrhea and vomiting.

Wound infections can result in cellulitis and should be treated by a healthcare provider.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there is no proof that antibiotics can minimize the length of the illness or its severity. However, antibiotics are sometimes used in serious vibriosis cases.


It's best to avoid undercooked and raw shellfish, especially oysters, to prevent an intestinal vibriosis infection. When eating shellfish make sure they are fully cooked. This means that shellfish still in the shell are boiled until the shell opens up and then still boiled for five more minutes.

Do not eat shellfish that doesn't open up after cooking. It's also crucial to ensure that food does not touch uncooked shellfish. This can cause cross-contamination resulting in illness.

Avoid coming in contact with brackish or saltwater to prevent vibriosis skin infections. This is particularly important for people with underlying medical conditions or weakened immune systems.

If a wound does come into contact with potentially contaminated water, wash the wound with clean water and soap as soon as possible. Any sign of infection should be treated by a healthcare provider.


Most people who get a vibriosis infection recover and have a positive prognosis. The CDC estimates that of the 80,000 vibriosis infections each year, it causes only approximately 100 deaths.

There is more risk of serious illness in people with vibriosis-related bloodstream infections and those with underlying conditions and weakened immune systems. These people need to seek medical attention as soon as possible for prompt treatment.


Vibriosis is a bacterial infection that can cause intestinal upset or skin infection. It's caused by eating raw or undercooked shellfish or when an open wound comes into contact with saltwater that contains the Vibrio bacteria. When vibriosis causes a food-borne illness the symptoms are typically watery diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. In skin infections, the wound can be red, painful, and swollen.

A Word From VeryWell

Vibriosis is a rare infection but can cause serious, life-threatening illnesses in certain people. The bacteria can cause intestinal illness or a skin infection. Be aware that you are at risk of getting sick if you eat raw or undercooked shellfish like oysters.

The intestinal symptoms include watery diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. People who get a skin infection may find their wound red, painful, and swollen. A skin infection is less common than an intestinal illness. However, a skin infection can become much more serious if it causes a bloodstream infection.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What happens when you get vibriosis?

    A vibriosis infection can cause an intestinal illness from eating contaminated food or skin infection from contaminated water. For most people with the food-borne illness, they can recover at home. In those with the skin infection, they should talk to their healthcare provider prompt treatment.

  • How do you cure vibriosis?

    Vibriosis is a bacterial infection that has no specific cure. Antibiotics can be used to help severe cases.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vibrio species causing vibriosis.

  2. Bell A, Bott M. Vibriosis: what you and your patients need to know. Dela J Public Health. 2021;7(1):14-21. doi:10.32481/djph.2021.001.005

  3. Washington State Department of Health. Vibriosis in shellfish.

  4. Virginia Department of Health. Vibriosis (non-cholera).

By Patty Weasler, RN, BSN
Patty is a registered nurse with over a decade of experience in pediatric critical care. Her passion is writing health and wellness content that anyone can understand and use.