Doctors should know that cases of a deadly infection may become more frequent in the Garden State, according to researchers at Cooper University Health Care in Camden.

Their report, published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, claims climate change leading to rising water temperatures in the Delaware Bay may be to blame for an uptick in the number of cases involving Vibrio vulnificus, a flesh-eating infection that can occur after bathing in affected waters or being exposed to raw and undercooked shellfish.

Five cases of the infection were seen by local specialists during the summer months of 2017 and 2018. All of the patients had contact with the bay.

"In the eight years before 2017, only one case of V. vulnificus was seen at our hospital," said. Dr. Katherine Doktor, a co-author. "As a result of our experience, we believe clinicians should be aware of the possibility that V. vulnificus infections are occurring more frequently outside traditional geographic areas."

Doktor said it's uncertain whether the bacteria will affect other bodies of water in New Jersey but it's crucial for clinicians to have the infection in the back of their minds when examining patients.

V. vulnificus is regularly found along the southeastern U.S. coast and has been reported from the Chesapeake Bay. Cases are rarely reported from the Delaware Bay due to slightly cooler temperatures.

The mortality rate of the infection is high, although four of the five patients mentioned in the study survived. All received prompt medical attention and surgical management.

Breaks in the skin are typically the entry point for wound infections, and intestinal infections occur after consumption of seafood. Either route can lead to bloodstream infections.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.