Officials with the Department of Health (DOH) are urging Floridians with certain health conditions to avoid consuming raw oysters, which often harbor the naturally occurring bacteria Vibrio vulnificus that may cause serious illness.
Those most at-risk for developing serious illness from Vibrio vulnificus include heavy drinkers with liver damage, and people with certain health conditions such as liver disease, hemochromatosis, diabetes, cancer, stomach disorders or any illness or treatment that weakens the immune system. While otherwise healthy persons eating raw oysters with this bacterium are less susceptible to becoming ill, at-risk individuals are more likely to become extremely ill or potentially die. People in these high-risk groups are also at risk of illness if they have wounds, cuts or scratches and wade in estuarine areas or seawater where the bacteria might be present.
“It’s important to realize that most cases of Vibrio vulnificus can be avoided by taking the proper precautions,” DOH Secretary Ana M. Viamonte Ros, M.D., M.P.H. said. “Individuals in high risk groups should avoid consuming raw oysters, or can enjoy cooked oysters or oysters that have been post-harvest treated.”
Thoroughly cooking oysters, either by frying, stewing or roasting, eliminates harmful bacteria and viruses in the meat. Consuming raw oysters that have undergone a post-harvest treatment process to eliminate the bacteria can also reduce the risk of illness.
Initial symptoms of Vibrio vulnificus infection can include mild nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, followed by distinctive swollen skin lesions, and septicemia (blood poisoning). If someone experiences these symptoms after consuming raw oysters, they should contact their personal physician immediately for diagnosis and to receive antibiotic treatment.
In 2006, DOH investigated 24 cases of Vibrio vulnificus, two of which resulted in death. Eight of the cases were attributed to wound exposure; four of the cases were attributed to the consumption of raw oysters, with two deaths; one was associated with crab consumption and the method of exposure of the remaining eleven cases was undetermined.
This year, there have been 4 confirmed cases of Vibrio vulnificus related to oyster consumption in Florida, and two of those have died.
For more information, please visit DOH’s Web site at www.doh.state.fl.us and choose “Food and Waterborne Disease” from the subject list.
Additional information can also be obtained by visiting the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference Web site at http://www.issc.org/Education/VibrioVulnificus.aspx or from the CDC Web site at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/vibriovulnificus_g.htm.
This article originally published on April 27, 2007.