Oysters are common seafood that can be served several ways. Many people enjoy them raw. However, this practice can be dangerous. More than 50 people develop a serious illness from eating raw oysters every year, and at least 10 die from this illness. This is due to the bacteria Vibrio Vulnificus. This bacterium is impossible to see, taste, or smell. It can be a nightmare for the human immune system.
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Vibrio Vulnificus thrives in warm saltwater. It is has been located as far north as Cape Cod on the Atlantic coast, and it is found throughout the entire west coast and Gulf of Mexico. The bacteria is at its peak during the summer months because the heat allows it to multiply faster. Though they can be dangerous at any time, raw oysters are especially dangerous if harvested between April and October.
Septicaemia is the primary cause of death associated with raw oysters. The person will develop fever, chills, septic shock and potentially blistering skin lesions. Primary septicaemia has about a 50 per cent mortality rate. Typically, if a person dies, it will be within a few days of consuming the undercooked shellfish. People with pre-existing health conditions like liver disease, hemochromatosis, diabetes, kidney disease and immune disorders such as HIV are at a higher risk of getting septicaemia from raw oysters.
In most cases a Vibrio Vulnificus infection is not deadly. In people with healthy immune systems it usually causes an extreme case of food poisoning. Vomiting, diarrhoea, and severe abdominal pain characterise a Vibrio Vulnificus infection. This usually subsides within a day or two and will have no long-term health consequences. Figures on how many people develop vibrio vulnificus infections are inexact because most health officials believe the disease is seldom reported. Therefore it is difficult to determine the percentage of people who develop the more severe septicaemia out of those who consume an infected oyster.
There is a noted connection where people that have eaten raw oysters have developed Hepatitis A. A food handler can pass it on, or oysters that are harvested from a location with infected water. There were several instances of Hepatitis A from raw oysters reported after hurricane Katrina, because of disruptions in sewer lines. Hepatitis A symptoms may take over a month to appear. The disease lasts approximately two weeks. The symptoms are lack of appetite, fever, nausea, fatigue and jaundice. Jaundice is a yellowish tint to the skin or whites of the eyes.
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