Vibrio bacterial disease

Vibrio bacteria are a family of bacteria that live in warm sea water. They can cause disease including vibrio cholera, which causes cholera.

Vibrio bacteria can contaminate seafood, particularly oysters and shellfish.

How it is spread

You can get vibrio infections by:

  • skin cuts or wounds that are exposed to sea water
  • consuming food or water that has been contaminated with the bacteria.

Who is at risk

People with poor immunity, such as those with chronic liver disease, have a higher risk of becoming sick.

It can start as a wound infection and quickly spread into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, the infection becomes life threatening, even with the best treatment.

Healthy people who eat food contaminated with vibrio bacteria may get gastro symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea. These usually settle without treatment. The severity of the illness depends on the:

  • type of vibrio
  • person’s immune system.

Where it is found

Vibrio bacteria are found in tropical waters so the risk of being exposed is higher along the north Australian coast.

In the Northern Territory (NT), serious infections were picked up in the sea or rivers around the south-western shore of the Gulf of Carpentaria – near the Sir Edward Pellew Group and Limmen Bight.

Severe infections with vibrio are rare. Since 2000, there have been 12 serious infections of people in the NT.


If you come into contact with rivers, estuaries or gulfs, you should:

  • avoid exposing open wounds or broken skin to sea or river water
    • if exposed, wash the wound with soap and clean water
  • thoroughly cook all seafood caught in coastal and estuarine waters
  • not eat any raw oysters or other raw shellfish
  • avoid contaminating other food when handling raw shellfish.

If you're immune compromised

If you have a compromised immune system, you should also:

  • avoid swimming in rivers estuaries or sea, especially in and around the Gulf of Carpentaria
  • minimise contact with tropical coastal sea water, particularly in and around the Gulf of Carpentaria
  • treat any wound that becomes infected following exposure to tropical waters and seek medical advice if it gets worse.


For more information contact your nearest Public Health Unit - Centre for Disease Control on the Department of Health website.

Last updated: 24 November 2022

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