We forecast where and when pathogens are most likely to be found in the Chesapeake Bay, based on the salinity and temperature of the water. Public health officials use our forecasts to target public safety messages and monitoring. When pathogens are present, cooking shellfish and washing open wounds after contact with coastal waters will reduce the risk of infection and illness.
Why We Care
Pathogens in coastal waters can cause human illnesses ranging from infected cuts to severe gastrointestinal disease and, in worst cases, death. Vibrio infection is relatively rare in Maryland—about 30 cases are reported each year. However, the mortality rate for septic cases can be up to 50 percent, and Vibrio vulnificus is responsible for 95 percent of all seafood related deaths in the United States. Vibrio vulnificus is a bacterium that normally lives in warm seawater and can cause disease in people who eat contaminated seafood or have an open wound that is exposed to seawater.
The fear of Vibrios and other pathogens can harm local economies if people stay away from coastal waters and avoid seafood out of concern for getting sick. Our pathogen forecast can help reduce these fears. If people know when they are most likely to find pathogens in the water, they can reduce their risk of infection by taking appropriate measures, such as thoroughly cooking seafood and washing open wounds.
What We Do
Since 2005, we have worked with federal, state, and academic partners to:
- Monitor potentially pathogenic species of bacteria in the Chesapeake region,
- Determine environmental factors that govern their distribution,
- Forecast Vibrio pathogen distribution, and
- Understand the implications for human and living resource health.
We discovered the bacteria like warm (> 15°C, > 59°F) and relatively salty waters (~10–15 ppt), and that 93 percent of the time, we can use water temperature and salinity to correctly predict where we will find V. vulnificus.
To predict where we will have warm, salty waters, we use the ChesROMS model, developed with NCCOS funding. Using ChesRoms, we generate three-day forecasts for state and county health officials. They, in turn, use these forecasts to target water quality monitoring, and to put out public health messages at high risk times. Not only is this partnership reducing the number of people getting sick from pathogens, but it is saving these offices money, because they can limit their monitoring to the places and times that are most problematic.
The model does not predict the abundance of pathogens or the susceptibility of people to illness. The Center for Disease Control is responsible for research on susceptibility.