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The present invention relates to species-specific DNA probes specific for Vibrio vulnificus and Vibrio cholerae. The DNA probes of the present invention specifically detects Vibrio vulnificus or Vibrio cholerae in a mixed bacterial sample based on unique ribosomal RNA nucleotide sequences. When the DNA probes of the present invention are tagged with a labeled molecule such as a fluorescent label, it affords direct and immediate visualization of individual bacterial cells, and a rapid method of detection of bacterial infection in humans and shellfish without culturing.