HONOLULU (KHON2) — The University of Hawai’i at Manoa scientists said the flesh-eating bacterium called “Vibrio vulnificus,” which lives naturally in the water of the Ala Wai Canal in Waikiki, is likely to increase by the end of the century, but infections are rare.

However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vibriosis causes an estimated 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths in the United States every year.

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The CDC said people with vibriosis become infected by consuming raw or undercooked seafood or exposing a wound to saltwater. Most infections occur from May to October when water temperatures are warmer.

A sample collection was taken from the canal monthly from October 2018 to September 2019, according to UH Doctoral student Jessica Bullington. The samples were processed at the Daniel K. Inouye Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education.

When asked if the public should be concerned about the bacteria increasing, Bullington said: “I think we should mitigate now so we don’t get an increase in infections when it triples.”

Bullington was a part of a research team that consist of 20 undergraduates and six graduate students from the UH Manoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology department.

“What is exciting about our research findings is the ability to use real-time and forecast data from the Pacific Island Ocean Observing System — which includes water temperature, salinity, currents, and dissolved organic matter — to predict V. vulnificus abundance in the canal and harbor now and three days into the future,” said Bullington, who is now a doctoral student at Stanford University.

Bullington said the next steps are to make these predictions accessible and communicate the risk of infection, both for short-term use and adaptation to the impacts of climate change.

According to the UH research team, climate change projections of rainfall and air temperature with their computer model of bacteria dynamics allowed the group to find that the abundance of the bacteria will increase two or three times the current levels in the coming decades.

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“Ultimately, we wanted to generate something that would be useful for people,” said Bullington. “This project is a great example of one of the many ways in which our departmental expertise can be of service to our local community and coastal management.”

With this new information, Bullington and her colleagues hope the community will find ways to “adapt to the changing conditions.”