Warning About Risk of Eating Raw Oysters

The Arkansas Department of Health is echoing an advisory from the Food and Drug Administration warning about the risks of eating raw oysters for individuals with liver disease and certain other medical conditions that make them more susceptible to infection from the bacterium, Vibrio vulnificus. The ADH is advising these “high risk” individuals to only eat cooked oysters, because cooking destroys the bacterium.

Many people eat raw oysters during parties and celebrations, while they are drinking alcohol. Frequently, these individuals don’t understand that eating raw oysters can be dangerous to people with liver disease or weakened immune systems. Drinking two to three alcoholic drinks each day can cause liver disease. Liver function may be impaired years before an individual begins to experience symptoms. People may be at high risk for infection from Vibrio vulnificus and not even know it. A person can’t tell if an oyster is contaminated by Vibrio vulnificus by looking at it or by smelling it. Because heat kills the bacteria, the only way to be sure of not eating a contaminated oyster is to eat it cooked.

To protect themselves from serious illness or death, the FDA is urging anyone whose immune system may be weakened to avoid raw oysters and to cook oysters thoroughly when dining at home, or order them cooked when eating out.

In the last two years, the FDA reports that, nationally, nine Hispanic men died after eating raw oysters contaminated with a bacterium that is commonly found in waters where oysters are cultivated during the warm weather months. Last year’s deaths suggest that some people in Hispanic communities may not be aware of the risk of this infection from eating raw oysters.

Of all diseases, infection with Vibrio vulnificus is one of the most severe. When healthy individuals are affected, mild stomach or intestinal symptoms such as diarrhea or pain may occur. However, 50 percent of the high-risk individuals who are infected with Vibrio vulnificus die.

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