Any shellfish, sushi, or meat eater is familiar with this warning, “Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness.” Yet we all routinely ignore it, because all those foods are delicious.
The death of a woman in Texas highlights that these warnings should not be taken lightly. Jeanette LeBlanc was infected with Vibrio, a flesh-eating bacteria that inhabit coastal waters where oysters live. Infection can occur from eating raw or undercooked shellfish, or exposing a wound to water where the bacteria thrive. LeBlanc, who had gone crabbing and then oyster eating with friends, was exposed to both. Less than 2 days later, she began to experience breathing problems and came down with a severe rash. Twenty-one days later, she was dead.
It’s worth noting that many who contact Vibrio only experience a mild form of infection, with diarrhea and vomiting (not fun, but not necessarily deadly), and usually recover in a few days. According to the CDC, “Vibriosis causes an estimated 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths in the United States every year.” However, some people who are infected with a specific type of Vibrio – Vibrio vulnificus, may become “seriously ill and need intensive care or limb amputation. About 1 in 4 people with this type of infection die, sometimes within a day or two of becoming ill.”
Knowing this information, would you still eat oysters?
Two people have died from flesh-eating bacteria (necrotizing fasciitis) believed to be caused by the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters. A 31 year old man who was working on recovery projects in the area and a 77 year old woman who contracted an infection when cleaning debris have died. From CNN:
spreads quickly, destroying the body’s soft tissue, and can become lethal within a very short time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, treatment with antibiotics can prevent death if diagnosed quickly. In some cases, surgery is needed to prevent the spread of this infection, which can be caused by more than one type of bacteria.
“The bacteria that caused necrotizing fasciitis are not strange or unique bacteria,” said Dr. David Persse, public health authority for the city of Houston. He explained these bacteria can live in swimming pools or natural bodies of water, and the flood waters, contaminated by sewage and fecal matter, just “happened to have more” bacteria than other bodies of water.
Meanwhile in Puerto Rico, where many people still don’t have access to clean water over a month after Hurricane Maria, an outbreak of leptospirosis is feared. Puerto Rico has reported at least 76 cases of suspected and confirmed leptospirosis, including a handful of deaths, reports Dr. Carmen Deseda
, the state epidemiologist for Puerto Rico. On average, 60 cases are usually reported in a whole year. From the Huffington Post:
is spread through the urine of infected animals, including rats, pigs, dogs and horses. When a person comes into contact with water, mud or soil that has been contaminated by an infected animal’s urine, the bacteria can enter the body through open abrasions or mucous membranes in the eyes, nose and mouth, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The current conditions in Puerto Rico are ripe for this type of infection…leptospirosis can be treated
early on by using antibiotics. If left untreated, in some strains of the disease, patients may hemorrhage in the lungs or experience kidney failure and die.