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2021 Vibrio Outbreak

Posted in Our Blog on August 10, 2021

Oysters have been around for millions of years and have been considered a delicacy by people all over the world for generations. Scientists report evidence of shellfish dinners dating back 164,000 years ago. Vibrio, however, has only been documented since the 1800s. Recently, abnormally hot temperatures in the U.S. Pacific Northwest in late June and early July drove up levels of the vibrio bacteria in area oysters, causing record numbers of illnesses and prompting oyster recalls.

Vibrio bacteria naturally live in certain coastal waters and are present in higher concentrations between May and October when water temperatures are warmer. Most people become infected by eating raw or undercooked shellfish, particularly oysters. Certain Vibrio species can also cause a skin infection when an open wound is exposed to salt water or brackish water. Brackish water is a mixture of fresh and salt water. It is often found where rivers meet the sea.

2021 Vibrio Outbreak

This recent outbreak, in Washington state, occurred over the holiday weekend of July 4th and coincided with the reopening of many of Washington’s businesses and restaurants. The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) said that several people visiting the area had fallen ill, including tourists from California, Canada, and Mexico. Officials had traced 48 of the cases back to commercial growers, while five of the cases were from recreational catch.

As of July 29th, 75 lab confirmed cases have been reported, and there are likely many more unreported cases. Because Vibrio bacteria are not easily identified with routine testing, many cases are not reported. According to DOH, the previous record number of reported vibrio cases was 48 in 2018.

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.

If you develop a skin infection, tell your medical provider if your skin has come into contact with salt water or brackish water, raw seafood, or raw seafood juices.

Illnesses from this record vibrio outbreak have been traced back to 24 different growing in areas in Washington state, including Samish Bay and Hood Canal, both of which have large tracts of oysters. A recall was issued for all oysters harvested in Samish Bay from June 29th onward, and the area was closed until at least August 6th, pending the results of ongoing tests. Officials were working to gather harvest from the area, while the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference reported that some oysters from the affected spot had been exported to China, Cambodia, and the Philippines.

The DOH reported that water temperatures had dropped, but they were still finding high levels of vibrio bacteria in the water and they expected the number of vibriosis cases to continue to rise through the end of summer.

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 

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, Ecoli, or Shigella in this 2021 Vibrio Outbreak 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.

By: Michelle Galadik