A 54-year-old Missouri man died Thursday after he contracted a flesh-eating bacterium from eating raw oysters, officials say.
The man, whom officials are not publicly identifying, became infected after he ate oysters he bought from The Fruit Stand & Seafood in the St. Louis suburb of Manchester, the St. Louis County Public Health Department announced Friday.
The bacterium, Vibrio vulnificus, is typically contracted by consuming raw or undercooked oysters and other shellfish. Symptoms of vibriosis, the disease it causes, include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever and chills.
Death is rare after having contacted vibriosis, and it typically occurs in people with weakened immune systems, the health department said.
Officials embargoed all oysters remaining at The Fruit Stand & Seafood and encourage everyone who bought oysters from the shop to throw them away.
“There is no evidence that the business did anything to contaminate the oysters, which likely were already contaminated when the establishment received them,” the health department said in a news release, adding that it is working to determine where the oysters came from.
V. vulnificus “can be found in warm, coastal waters, usually during the summer months,” and it is the most likely of all Vibrio bacteria to cause severe illness, according to the health department. It can also infect open wounds if they’re exposed to contaminated water, but doesn’t spread from person to person.
The bacterium is responsible for more than 95% of seafood-related deaths in the U.S., where the mortality rate for the bacterial infection is around 33%, according to the health department.
A study published in March in the journal Scientific Reports found that infections caused by V. vulnificus along the East Coast of the U.S. could double in the next 20 years, particularly as warmer sea surface temperatures enable the flesh-eating bacterium to thrive in waters farther north than ever before.
Study co-author Iain Lake, a professor of environmental sciences at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, called V. vulnificus “a nasty little bug,” because infections spread rapidly and the bacterium can severely damage a person’s flesh. He added that 1 in 5 cases are deadly and that many patients require amputations to survive.
To reduce the risk of contracting V. vulnificus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends not eating raw or undercooked oysters and shellfish and washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling shellfish.
The agency also says to stay out of salt water or bodies of water that contain a mixture of salt and fresh water if you have a wound and to wash any wounds thoroughly if they’ve been exposed to raw seafood or seawater.