Raw Oysters Risky For Some This Time Of Year Says LSU AgCenter Health Educator

Sally M. Soileau  |  7/29/2005 2:12:44 AM

News You Can Use For August 2005

Certain oyster lovers have to be cautious about eating the shellfish during August. Levels of Vibrio vulnificus (Vv) bacteria are higher when coastal waters are warm, says state education oyster Vv coordinator, Dr. Sally Soileau, a professor with the LSU AgCenter.

Individuals with liver disease, diabetes or a weakened immune system can become severely ill or even die from the Vv bacteria.

Soileau says elevated levels of Vibrio vulnificus develop in Gulf Coast waters between April and October. Vv bacteria do not change the appearance, taste or give any detectable odor to oysters.

At-risk consumers are those with any of these health conditions: 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 also are advised not to eat raw fin fish and shellfish," says LSU AgCenter nutritionist, Dr. Beth Reames, adding, "Those at high risk should not eat food of raw animal protein origin, which includes raw shellfish."

Soileau also notes that if you have sores or open wounds, never swim or wade in seawater, because you can become infected with Vv bacteria.

Those at risk should eat only oysters that have been thoroughly cooked, since heat destroys the Vv bacteria. Smothering raw oysters in hot sauce and drinking alcohol while eating oysters to kill the bacteria are useless (and potentially lethal) myths, Soileau warns.

Within 24-28 hours Vv bacteria can cause fever and chills, skin lesions, stomach pain or nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and shock. If you have any of these symptoms after eating raw oysters, Soileau says to seek medical attention immediately. Infection can lead to death within two days for those at risk. The most effective therapy is early aggressive antibiotic treatment.

Although healthy individuals are rarely affected by Vibrio vulnificus, high-risk individuals are advised always to choose cooked oysters when dining out, thoroughly cook oysters at home and never swim or wade in saltwater with open wounds or sores.

LSU AgCenter Extension educators and the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference provide detailed information on risk factors of raw molluscan shellfish, including oysters, at www.ISSC.org.

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On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: www.lsuagcenter.com

On the Internet: Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference: www.ISSC.org

Source: Sally Soileau (225) 389-7634, or ssoileau@agcenter.lsu.edu

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