‘If you cook them the virus goes away.’ Raw oysters from Louisiana linked to two deaths in Florida recently

Two people have died in Florida from infections related to eating raw oysters from Louisiana.
Published: Aug. 17, 2022 at 10:52 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 18, 2022 at 8:27 AM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Two people have died in Florida from infections related to eating raw oysters from Louisiana.

According to the Associated Press, a restaurant customer in Fort Lauderdale died of a bacterial infection after eating raw oysters. A Pensacola man died the same way this month.

RELATED: 2 deaths in Florida linked to raw oysters from Louisiana

Experts say some people may need to take a few extra precautions during the hot summer months, especially if you eat them raw.

“When the ambient temperatures are in the 90′s, this organism is going to thrive, and that is the case in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Dr. Fred Lopez, an infectious disease specialist with LSU Health New Orleans

The Florida Department of Health reports that the two men got sick from a virus that thrives in oysters during the warmer months from May until October.

“Any oyster that’s harvested off the Gulf Coast is probably going to contain this organism. The name of this organism is vibrio vulnificus and this organism can cause very serious complications from individuals who have risk factors,” said Dr. Lopez.

The CDC says the vibrio bacteria doesn’t change how any oyster looks, tastes or even smells.

But every year across the United States about 100 people die from it.

“It’s patients who have liver disease, patients who abuse alcohol, patients who have chronic diseases like diabetes, they may have cancer, they may be taking medications that suppress their immune systems. These are individuals that are at risk of developing these serious complications,” said Dr. Lopez.

“Oysters are just like any other raw protein product, you’ve got to be careful. If you’ve got an immune disorder, a blood disorder, you shouldn’t eat protein products raw or they should be fully cooked,” said Tommy Cvitanovich, the owner of Drago’s Seafood Restaurant.

Cvitanovich says Wildlife and Fisheries agents along with the folks at the Department of Health, are constantly monitoring this to make sure the product is safe for you.

“If you love Louisiana oysters and gulf oysters, cook them. Whether you fry them, sauté them in a spaghetti gravy, whether you charbroil them. If you cook them the virus goes away. If you get it up to 160 degrees it’s done,” said Cvitanovich.

“If you want to eat shellfish and you’re in one of these risk groups, cook them,” said Dr. Lopez.

And these oysters that are carrying the virus can be found anywhere across the Gulf Coast, and not just from Louisiana.

There’s still no word on if there was a hiccup along the supply chain part of the process which led the oysters to Florida.

Probably all local seafood restaurants do have signs warning people about the risk of eating raw shellfish.

And you can always remember an old rule of thumb: Eat wild oysters in months with the letter “r” – from September to April.

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