Death by Oyster

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 amputationAbout 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?