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2 Deaths Linked to Raw Oysters From Louisiana

Posted in Vibrio on August 19, 2022

Two people have died in Florida from ingesting raw oysters. Here is everything we know about these raw oyster deaths:

About the 2022 Raw Oyster Deaths

A restaurant customer in Fort Lauderdale has died of a bacterial infection after eating raw oysters. A Pensacola man died the same way this month. Both cases involved oysters from Louisiana.

Gary Oreal, who manages the Rustic Inn, told the South Florida SunSentinel that the man who died had worked years ago at the restaurant famous for garlic crabs.

“Over the course of 60 years, we have served a couple billion oysters, and we never had anyone get sick like this guy did,” Oreal said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Vibrio bacteria doesn’t make an oyster look, smell, or taste any different. The agency said about 80,000 people get vibriosis in the U.S. each year, and about 100 people die from it.

Inspectors from the Florida Department of Health checked out the restaurant’s kitchen and examined its oyster inventory the day after the man became ill, Oreal told the newspaper.

“We passed with flying colors and we were allowed to continue to sell oysters,” he said, adding the oysters being served currently are from Louisiana. “If there was a problem with the oyster bed we would know it because others would have gotten sick.”

The restaurant has a sign warning patrons about the risks of eating raw shellfish.

“Oysters are top of the mountain for dangerous foods to eat,” Oreal said. “I have eaten them my entire life, and will continue. But you are putting yourself at risk when you do it.”

The Florida Department of Health says 26 people have become infected with the bacteria and six of them later died after eating raw shellfish, including oysters, so far this year. In 2021, 10 people died out of 34 people sickened. In 2020, there were seven deaths among the 36 who became ill.

Last week, a man in Pensacola died after contracting the bacteria from oysters he bought at a market, the Pensacola News Journal reported. That oyster also came from Louisiana, officials said.

Infections linked to the bacteria are common in oysters and raw seafood during the summer months when water temperatures are warmer, University of West Florida Professor Robert “Wes” Farr told the newspaper.

“Serious infection is rare, but the risk is still there,” Farr said.

How can I prevent Vibriosis?

Eat only well-cooked shellfish, especially in summer months. Shellfish need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 145℉ for 15 seconds in order to destroy Vibrio bacteria. Do not consider them fully cooked when the shells just open! People with compromised immune systems especially are at risk. Anyone who eats raw or partially cooked fish or shellfish can become ill. Always wash your hands after handling raw meat, including seafood and shellfish. Taking antacids also increases your risk of getting sick. Stomach acids help destroy bacteria, so when stomach acids are reduced, vibrio bacteria are more likely to pass through the stomach and into the intestine, where the illness occurs.

Additionally, check for water quality alerts before going to the beach in coastal areas. Avoid going in the water if high levels of Vibrio are present, especially if you have open wounds, are immuno-compromised, or have liver problems. Wash wounds and cuts thoroughly with soap and water if they have been exposed to seawater or raw seafood or its juices.

The CDC estimates that Vibriosis causes an estimated 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths in the United States every year. Approximately 52,000 of these cases are estimated to be the result of eating contaminated food.

What are the symptoms?

Most people with a mild case of vibriosis recover after about 3 days with no lasting effects. However, people with a Vibrio vulnificus infection can get seriously ill and need intensive care or limb amputation. About 1 in 5 people with this type of infection die, sometimes within a day or two of becoming ill.

When ingested, Vibrio bacteria can cause:

  • Watery diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Chills

These symptoms usually occur within 24 hours of ingestion and last about 3 days. Severe illness is rare but can occur in people who have liver disease, cancer, diabetes, HIV, or thalassemia. As well as those who receive immune-suppressing therapy for the treatment of disease, take medicine to decrease stomach acid levels, or have had recent stomach surgery.

Some infections, such as those caused by Vibrio vulnificus, can cause more severe illness, including bloodstream infections and severe blistering skin lesions. Many people with V. vulnificus infections require intensive care or limb amputations, and 15-30% of infections are fatal. Treatment is not necessary in mild cases, but patients should drink plenty of liquids to replace fluids lost through diarrhea. Although there is no evidence that antibiotics decrease the severity or duration of illness, they are sometimes used in severe or prolonged illnesses.

Tips for cooking shellfish:

Before cooking, discard any shellfish with open shells.

For shellfish in the shell, either:

  • Boil until the shells open and continue boiling another 3-5 minutes, or
  • Add to a steamer when water is already steaming, and cook for another 4-9 minutes.

Only eat shellfish that open during cooking. Throw out any shellfish that do not open fully after cooking.

For shucked oysters, either:

  • Boil for at least 3 minutes,
  • Fry in oil for at least 3 minutes at 375° Fahrenheit,
  • Broil 3 inches from heat for 3 minutes, or
  • Bake at 450° Fahrenheit for 10 minutes.

So, if you’re one of the many people who enjoy eating oysters, consider not eating them raw at all. Rather go for a char-grilled or blackened variety. If you really enjoy eating them raw and don’t want to end up with Vibrio, like those from this recent outbreak, pay attention to when you eat them and where they come from, if possible.

The Lange Law Firm Helps

Our mission is to help families who have been harmed by contaminated food or water.  When corporations cause Vibrio and Ecoli food poisoning outbreaks or Legionnaires disease outbreaks, we use the law to hold them accountable.  The Lange Law Firm, PLLC is the only law firm in the nation solely focused on representing families in food poisoning lawsuits and Legionnaires disease lawsuits.

If you were infected with Vibrio or someone you love had died after eating raw oysters and are interested in making a legal claim for compensation, we have a Vibrio lawyer ready to help you.  Call us for a free no obligation legal consultation at (833) 330-3663 or send us an e-mail here.