Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Environmental Sciences

Document Type



The CDC reports fatalities within one to two days for 20% of victims of a Vibrio vulnificus infection. This flesh-eating bacterium is part of the Vibrio genus, which comprises various pathogenic species responsible for the human illness, Vibriosis, which is estimated at 80,000 annual cases in the US, according to the CDC.

A vibriosis public health concern exists, but there's no mandatory national surveillance system. This study reveals that only 19 states mandate vibriosis reporting, leaving a gap in understanding the incidence of disease from this flesh-eating bacterium.

This research comprises four studies that advance our knowledge of vibriosis through a comprehensive, interdisciplinary exploration spanning health risk communication, ecological insights, policy implications, and opportunities for community collaboration. This research surveys a Louisiana community, revealing 71% of fishers near the Gulf of Mexico are susceptible to V. vulnificus infections due to injuries. Effective health risk communication is vital to save lives, yet the systematic review shows this need isn't met nationally. 35% of states lack vibriosis webpages, and none use common terms like "flesh-eating bacteria", despite 78% of survey participants being familiar with the term, compared to only 2% with "Vibrio vulnificus."

The significance of this research is underscored by the challenges revealed during the recent COVID-19 pandemic. It highlighted the imperative to improve the reporting and management of infectious diseases to save lives, as well as the need to bolster health-risk communication systems in the era of widespread digital misinformation.

Moreover, gaining a deep understanding of the true burden of vibriosis, particularly from fatal wound infections, holds exceptional importance at a time when we are striving to grasp the impact of climate change on human exposure to vibrios and the prevalence of vibriosis infections.



Committee Chair

Margaret Reams

Available for download on Saturday, October 31, 2026