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Anglers face dangers from vibrio vulnificus bacterium and fish handler's disease

When Charlie Schneider came back one day in June after being out fishing near his Tilghman Island home, he noticed he was getting chills. His left ankle itched and got worse and worse through the evening. It eventually started to throb a bit, and he couldn't sleep. At 2 a.m., he asked his wife to get an ice pack before discovering that his ankle had swollen to twice its normal size.

He didn't know what had caused the reaction, but his decision to go straight to the hospital ultimately helped save his legs — and his life.

Schneider, 66, was suffering from an infection caused by the vibrio vulnificus bacterium, which exists naturally in saltwater but is more prevalent in warmer water, said Martin Carter, a retired Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Laboratories Administration employee who speaks to fishing groups about infections, such as this one, that fishermen can be exposed to.

Vibrio infects victims through open wounds exposed to warm saltwater or through the consumption of raw oysters carrying the bacterium. While the bacterium is much less prevalent in colder seasons because it multiplies more prolifically in warmer water, Carter said “really it's not a good idea to eat raw oysters in the summertime.”

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