"Flesh eating bacteria," often contracted through eating raw oysters, is on the rise

The oysters are more likely to be infected thanks to warmer waters as a result of global warming

By Michael La Corte

Deputy Food Editor

Published September 18, 2023 2:32PM (EDT)

Oysters on the Half Shell (Anne-Claire Thieulon)
Oysters on the Half Shell (Anne-Claire Thieulon)

If you're a big fan of raw oyster appetizers, watch out. According to Cheryl McCloud at the Herald Tribune, "at least eight people in Florida have died so far this year from the so-called 'flesh eating' bacteria" vibrio vulnificus. There have also been deaths linked to the infection in other states, such as Texas, Connecticut and New York.

In most instances, the carrier of the illness was raw or undercooked shellfish, such as oysters. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a warning, specifically referencing the warmer, coastal waters — which continue warming thanks to climate change — which may result in infected oysters. High-risk individuals shouldn't consume raw oysters, but the recent outbreaks have made the common dish even more concerning. A man in Texas who died from the illness "had a liver condition and was on immuno-suppressant drugs — which put him at high risk of becoming severely ill from the infection." 

Oysters infected with the bacteria will look, smell and taste just like their safe counterparts. The only sure way to kill the infection is by cooking oysters to a safe temperature, which makes consuming raw oysters something of a risk. Beyond eating raw oysters and other shellfish or seafood, another way to contract the illness is by swimming in infected areas in open water or when swimming in these areas with open sores or cuts. According to the Florida Department of Health, vibro vulnificus infections are fatal in 50% of cases.

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