GALVESTON, Texas – You’ve likely heard reports of people getting infected with the flesh-eating bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus, usually when vacationing near warm waters.

But did you know that there are actually several different types of bacteria that kill tissue that they infect? One such bacteria is called Aeromonas hydrophila or AH, and it can be found in waters around the world. These bacteria can be found in ground water, lakes, rivers, reservoirs and in up to 27 percent of drinking water.

When someone is infected with AH, they may be in fact dealing with several different strains of the bacteria that interact with one another, changing the course of infection.

A new study from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston performed in collaboration with the University of Maryland at College Park investigated the dynamics among these strains, which may lead to the development of new therapeutic interventions. The study is currently available in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

AH causes a rapidly progressing, life-threatening infection. Even with quick surgery to remove the infected tissue, up to 50 percent of people die and those that survive often live with lifelong disabilities and disfigurement.

“People can become infected with more than one strain of AH at the same time,” said senior author Ashok Chopra, UTMB professor in the department of microbiology and immunology. “In the study, we used cell biology techniques, metagenomics, and animal studies to learn more about how the different strains can interact with each other because this can influence how quickly and intensely the infection progresses. It can also teach us how to develop new ways to decrease the bacteria’s ability to wreak havoc on people.”

Other authors include UTMB’s Paul Kilgore, Jourdan Andersson, Elizabeth Blears and Jian Sha; Ana Ferna´ndez-Bravo and Maria Jose´ Figueras from the Universidad Rovira i Virgili in Spain as well as Nur Hasan and Rita Colwell from the University of Maryland at College Park.