Vibrio vulnificus, a bacterium that is present in marine environments, can cause a serious type of food poisoning that must be treated by a healthcare provider. The bacteria can enter the body either through eating infected seafood, such as raw or undercooked oysters, or it can enter through open wounds when a person is swimming in infected waters.

It's important to know that infected seafood will look, smell, and taste normal; but the toxin can be destroyed by cooking the seafood thoroughly. Also, individuals with compromised immune systems or liver disease often develop more severe symptoms from Vibrio vulinificus than healthy individuals, so they should avoid eating raw shellfish.

Typical Symptoms of Vibrio vulnificus Poisoning:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)

More Severe Symptoms:

  • Bleeding skin ulcers
  • Bacteria in blood (found upon examination)

Treatment:

  • Seek immediate medical treatment at the sign of first symptoms.
  • Call 9-1-1 if the patient is showing signs of shock or confusion.
  • Call the Carolinas Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 for information •

Tips for Preventing a Vibrio vulnificus Infection:

  • Do not eat raw oysters or other raw shellfish.
  • Cook shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels) thoroughly. 
  • For shellfish in the shell, either
    • a) boil until the shells open and continue boiling for 5 more minutes
    • b) steam until the shells open and then continue cooking for 9 more minutes. Do not eat those shellfish that do not open during cooking. Boil shucked oysters at least 3 minutes, or fry them in oil at least 10 minutes at 375°F.
  • Avoid cross-contamination of cooked seafood and other foods with raw seafood and juices from raw seafood.
  • Eat shellfish immediately after cooking and refrigerate leftovers promptly.
  • Avoid exposure of open wounds or broken skin to warm salt water, to brackish water, or to raw shellfish harvested from such waters. 
  • Wear protective clothing (e.g., gloves) when handling raw shellfish.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vibrio vulnificus. Accessed March 12, 2014, at: http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/divisions/dfbmd/diseases/vibriov/#oysters