June 9, 1999
State Issues Warning on Raw Oysters from
the Gulf Coast
SACRAMENTO, CA (SafetyAlerts) - In response to one
recent death and two illnesses linked to the consumption of raw oysters from the Gulf
Coast, the California Department of Health Services (DHS) today reminded high-risk
individuals not to eat raw oysters harvested from Louisiana, Texas, Florida, Mississippi
and Alabama. Oysters from these states, especially those harvested during the warmer
months of April through October, have been contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus, a
harmful bacteria that can cause severe illness and death in susceptible individuals.
Gulf Coast oysters are distributed throughout
California, especially in ethnic markets. Three Hispanic men who became ill from this
- A 49-year-old from Los Angeles County who died in
May, four days after consuming raw oysters.
- A 44-year-old from Los Angeles County who recovered
after becoming ill in April.
- A 45-year-old from Ventura County who currently is
in critical condition.
Of the 46 individuals with Vibrio vulnificus
infections reported to DHS from 1983 through May 1999, 31 died.
People with chronic liver disease or viral
hepatitis are more susceptible to Vibrio vulnificus infections. Other people at
higher risk of severe infection who should not eat raw oysters include those with cancer,
AIDS or other conditions that weaken or compromise the immune system.
Oysters should be thoroughly cooked to decrease
the risk of infection since heat kills the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria. Undercooked
oysters, such as those that are lightly steamed, marinated or prepared as Oysters
Rockefeller, may also pose a health risk.
Vibrio vulnificus infections can cause
fever, chills, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. The onset of symptoms is usually
within 24 hours of eating contaminated shellfish. Death can occur within two to three
Vibrio vulnificus is naturally present in
all estuaries and marine environments. Especially high levels of Vibrio vulnificus
have been found in raw oysters harvested from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Consumption of raw Gulf Coast oysters has regularly caused Vibrio vulnificus
illnesses in California and other states.
Since 1991, DHS has required restaurants, markets
and other retailers that sell Gulf Coast oysters to conspicuously display a warning about
the risk of eating these oysters. Regulations prohibit retailers from receiving raw
oysters if their origin is not clearly identified and require the retailer to retain
oysters identification tags for 90 days. In addition, state regulations require all
dealers and retailers to maintain proper records, which allows for the rapid
identification of shellfish sources linked to illnesses. If you have any questions about
the source of oysters displayed for sale, please ask your retailer or oyster supplier.
DHS warns consumers that all foods of animal
origin pose some risk when eaten raw. To reduce the risk of illness, high-risk individuals
are advised to cook all foods of animal origin, such as oysters.