Raw Oysters Can Be Fatal for Some This Time of Year Warns LSU AgCenter Expert

Sally M. Soileau, Reames, Elizabeth S.  |  4/19/2005 10:28:28 PM

News You Can Use For July 2004  

Raw oysters on the half shell are a favorite choice of many who enjoy this Louisiana delicacy with no ill effects. People with liver disease, diabetes or a weak immune system, however, can become severely ill or even die, warns LSU AgCenter oyster safety expert Dr. Sally Soileau.

The danger is that raw oysters contain the bacteria Vibrio vulnificus (Vv). Soileau is the state oyster education Vv coordinator. She says that Vibrio vulnificus thrive in warm coastal waters like the Gulf of Mexico, and their levels rise during the warmer and hot weather months of April through October.

"The presence of Vibrio vulnificus bacteria does not change the appearance, taste or give any detectable odor to the oyster," Soileau points out.

LSU AgCenter Extension educators (www.lsuagcenter.com) and the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (www.ISSC.org) provide information on risk factors for raw molluscan shellfish containing Vibrio vulnificus. Consumers with any of the following health conditions risk serious illness when eating raw oysters: liver disease (from hepatitis, cirrhosis, alcoholism or cancer); iron overload disease (hemochromatosis); diabetes; cancer (including lymphoma, leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease); stomach disorders; or any illness or medical treatment that weakens the body’s immune system.

"Older adults should not eat raw finfish and shellfish, including oysters, to reduce risks of illness from bacteria in food," advises LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames, adding, "If you are at risk, undercooked or raw oysters can make you ill. If you are unsure of your risk, consult with your physician."

Soileau says smothering raw oysters in hot sauce and drinking alcohol during consumption are "myths" that prove to be useless to avoid Vibrio vulnificus infection. She recommends eating only oysters that have been thoroughly cooked, if you are at risk. Heat destroys the Vv bacteria.

"Also, when you have sores or open wounds, never swim or wade in seawater, since you can become infected if these bacteria enter your body through an open wound while swimming," Soileau says.

Within 24-28 hours, the following symptoms may occur from the Vv bacteria: fever/chills, skin lesions, stomach pain/nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and shock.

"If you have any of these symptoms after eating raw oysters, seek medical attention immediately," Soileau warns, explaining, "Infection can lead to death within two days for those at risk." She says the most effective therapy is early aggressive antibiotic treatment.

For information on related family and consumer topics, visit the FCS Web site at http://www.lsuagcenter.com/Inst/Extension
/Departments/fcs/.  For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.

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On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/Inst/Extension/
Departments/fcs/
On the Internet: ISSC: http://www.ISSC.org
Source: Sally Soileau (225) 389-3056, or ssoileau@agcenter.lsu.edu
Source: Beth Reames (225) 578-3329, or breames@agcenter.lsu.edu

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