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Posted on: July 23, 2018 at 1:19 pm
Last updated: July 30, 2018 at 11:05 am

On today’s menu, we have freshly shucked oysters over a bed of shaved ice garnished with lemon, horseradish, and Tabasco. On any other day, a refreshing treat like that would sound amazing. But the recent death of a 71-year-old man in Sarasota County, Florida has people thinking twice about the popular seafood dish.

On July 8, the man ate raw oysters from a Sarasota restaurant. So far, Florida Department of Health officials have kept both his name and the restaurant he ordered at anonymous. But he quickly fell ill and, within two days, died after contracting a bacterial infection known as Vibrio vulnificus.

“We have an individual that consumed raw oysters and to the best of our knowledge had no exposure to salt water, became severely ill, and passed away,” said Michael Drennon, the Disease Intervention Services Program Manager at the Sarasota County Health Department.[1,2]

The Bacterial Infection That Anyone Can Contract

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Vibrio vulnificus is a bacterial infection that exists in saltwater or brackish water (i.e., a mixture of fresh and sea water which usually occurs at estuaries).[4] The bacteria can also live in raw or undercooked shellfish, especially in oysters. While anyone can contract Vibrio vulnificus throughout the year, bacteria are more prevalent between the warmer months of May to October. In fact, 80 percent of infections occur during these months.[3]

This bacterial infection can turn into a flesh-eating disease if, for example, someone has an open cut or scrape and comes into contact with brackish or salt water.[4] However, the bacteria trigger different symptoms when consumed. (Certain health conditions can even increase your risk of contracting Vibrio vulnificus, which we list below.)

“[When] someone consumes the bacteria,” said Drennon,[1] “[usually] their symptoms are more gastrointestinal.”

What Are the Symptoms of Vibrio Vulnificus?

This bacterial infection results in approximately 80,000 illnesses every year, 52,000 of which contaminated food is the root cause. Symptoms usually show within 24 hours and can include:[3]

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cramping
  • Vomiting
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Low blood pressure
  • Blood infections
  • Red and warm or blistering skin, and even limb amputation (in severe, wound-related cases)

“We tell everybody regardless of age or immune status that they should avoid eating raw or undercooked shell fish or seafood or avoid being in the salt water when they have an open wound or lesion on their body.”[1]

According to PEOPLE, Florida Department of Health’s G. Steve Huard shared that the 71-year-old man had “underlying medical conditions,” though he did not specify them.[5]

9 Health Conditions Putting You at High-Risk of Contracting Vibrio Vulnificus

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People who are relatively healthy and have no long-term healthy problems can bounce back from a mild Vibrio vulnificus infection within a few days. However, there are a number of diseases and health conditions that can skyrocket their risk of contracting Vibrio vulnificus if they aren’t careful.[6]

  1. Liver disease (e.g., cirrhosis, hepatitis, and hemochromatosis)
  2. Chronic alcohol abuse
  3. Diabetes
  4. Cancer (or current cancer treatment)
  5. Low stomach acidity (including the use of antacids)
  6. Stomach problems
  7. Chronic kidney disease
  8. High-dose corticosteroid treatment (e.g., prednisone) or immunosuppressive treatment (i.e., post-organ transplant)
  9. HIV infection or AIDS

While some of those conditions are less popular, health problems such as liver disease, diabetes, low stomach acidity and other stomach problems, and chronic kidney disease are plentiful in the United States. So, it’s best to do all you can to avoid contracting the potentially fatal bacterial infection…

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Vibrio Vulnificus Prevention Tips

Whether or not you have any of the conditions listed above, you might not want to risk getting such an infection. Here are a few tips to help you prevent it at all costs:[6]

  • Do not eat raw shellfish, especially oysters
  • Only consume thoroughly cooked shellfish
  • Wear protective clothing (e.g., gloves) when handling raw shellfish
  • Avoid exposing any open wounds to brackish or salt water
  • If you have exposed a cut or scrape to that kind of water, wash the wound with soap and water and notify your personal health care practitioner to be safe

We hope these tips for prevention the bacterial Vibrio vulnificus infection come in handy! If you know anyone with the health conditions above, make sure they see this article because it could be a matter of life and death… just as it was with the late 71-year-old man.

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Health Network
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