I only eat oysters from cold water (North Atlantic, Pacific NW), and only when I can see or at least smell the ocean. It’s a rule I’ve followed for many years. Eating raw anything out of water that approximates the temperature of a microbe incubator just doesn’t make sense to me.
Then there is the brain eating amoeba in fresh water that if you get water up your nose, it can find its way into your brain. That is almost always fatal. It also lives in warm water mostly at the bottom but can be stirred up into the water column.
The bacterium in question, Vibrio vulnificus is not new–I was treating cases of it on the Mississippi Gulf Coast 40 years ago. Here’s the simplified “Cliff Notes” version:
- It grows in brackish (i.e., partially salt) water. The two major areas that have that kind of water here in the US are the Gulf coast–especially inshore of barrier islands-- and the Chesapeake, and those are the places you can acquire it. I’ve seen cases in both locales.
- If you are immunocompromised, and especially if you have liver disease, you can develop fulminant septic shock from eating contaminated seafood. Oysters are the most typical source, but other shellfish (molluscs) can carry it too.
- Even if you are healthy, you can develop very aggressive skin/soft tissue infections if non-intact skin (cut/scratch/abrasion/other wound) is exposed to infected water, or, even higher risk, if you cut or abrade yourself on shellfish or barnacles
- The antibiotics directed against staph & strep, which are the most typical causes of skin/soft tissue infections, are ineffective against it–so if a physician doesn’t know that the infection occurred in the setting of brackish water, the wrong antibiotic may be used and critical time lost, leading to a bad outcome in an otherwise treatable case…
As somebody who often sails and paddles in brackish water along the Jersey Coast and the Chesapeake, thanks for the heads up.
I’ve paddled and fished warm brackish gulf coast water for years. I always have a small bottle of peroxide with me and any cut or scrape gets immediately rinsed. I use it in warm fresh water also just in case. So far, so good.
Good idea! However, 3% hydrogen peroxide degrades over time so starting fresh each year is good idea. It is sensitive to sunlight too, so always store in a brown or opaque bottle. Plastic is best, as peroxide may react with metals, esp. aluminum.
A little follow up on this thread–here’s a case from this week of a fellow who died from this bacterium after eating raw oysters. I can’t vouch for the information about the victim, but the article’s information about the bacterium is correct:
Yet more affirmation of @kayakbasser 's peroxide idea and my long-standing rule about consuming cold water shellfish only … and only near where they are sourced.
…and don’t eat them raw. Just too risky IMO.
When my parents in law lived at Hilton Head years ago we’d pick oysters in March and eat them raw. Not a chance now. Development anywhere on the coast is crazy.
Here’s some interesting follow up for this thread–your US Government tax dollars at work (in a good way). They actually map Vibrio vulnificus probability daily throughout the Chesapeake, here:
Two things strike me: how very high the probability of active V vulnificus is in the central Chesapeake during this midsummer, and second, how its geographic distribution aligns with truly brackish water: much lower risk in the upper reaches of the rivers (fresh water) or near the mouth of the Chesapeake (fully salt water).
Vibrio death in Annapolis, MD.
First Aid True or False – Caring for Cuts, Scrapes, Burns, Wounds. OK, it seems the medical advice on hydrogen peroxide has changed. I plan on still keeping some with me when paddling and/or fishing. I do rinse the wound with clean fresh water after applying peroxide.
If the wound comes in contact with brackish and possibly contaminated water while out paddling, it seems to me there’s a decent chance you won’t have quick access to a source of clean water for a 5 minute rinse. In that case, I think it better to apply an anti-septic right away and do the rinse when you can.
Here is what Maryland recommends:
Soap and freshwater if you can, hand sanitizer if you do not have that. Waterproof bandages if you know you have a cut and will be contacting the water.
Makes sense, as alcohol is the active ingredient and the gel slows evaporation so it can work longer. If I were worried about a would coming in contact with polluted water, I’d go for the Chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG, aka Hibiclens) after a good soapy rinse once home. It’s what most hospitals use to control bacterial infections pre and post op.
If you use Hibiclens make sure you follow the directions carefully! It is safe IF used correctly. Especially keep it away from your ears.