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Health Warning to oyster consumers and Gulf, Bay swimmers | Health

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Health Warning to oyster consumers and Gulf, Bay swimmers
Health, News, People
Health Warning to oyster consumers and Gulf, Bay swimmers

Tampa, Florida-- The Hillsborough County Health Department warns Tampa Bay area residents and visitors of a potentially life threatening illness brought on by a bacteria existing in undercooked oysters and local waters.

The bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus, infected two Hillsborough County residents this year, and resulted in the loss of their lives, the Health Department says in a recent release. 

They say the bacteria occurs naturally in coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and is especially common the summer months' warmer waters.

Infections, according to the department, are most often due to consumption of raw oysters and other undercooked or raw shellfish.  Additionally, infection can result from exposure of open wounds or sores to seawater.

Vibrio vulnificus can cause several different types of illnesses, ranging from wound infections to serious gastrointestinal disease, depending on one's exposure.

People with the following conditions are at higher risk of serious complications or death:

  • Liver disease (for example: hepatitis, cirrhosis, alcoholism)
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer (for example: lymphomas, leukemia, Hodgkin's disease)
  • Iron overload disease (also known as hemochromatosis)
  • Any illness or medical treatment that weakens the body's immune system (for example: HIV)

The Health Department provides tips for preventing Vibrio infections:

  • Do not eat raw oysters or other raw shellfish; cook shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels) thoroughly.
  • For shellfish in the shell, either a) boil until the shells open and continue boiling for 5 more minutes, or b) steam until the shells open and then continue cooking for 9 more minutes. Do not eat those shellfish that do not open during cooking. Boil shucked oysters at least 3 minutes, or fry them in oil at least 10 minutes at 375F.
  • Avoid cross-contamination of cooked seafood and other foods with raw seafood and juices from raw seafood.
  • Eat shellfish promptly after cooking and refrigerate leftovers.
  • Avoid exposure of open wounds or broken skin to warm salt or brackish water, or to raw shellfish harvested from such waters.
  • Wear protective clothing (e.g., gloves) when handling raw shellfish.

Find out more on Vibrio vulnificus

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