Sarasota man dies from infectious bacteria after eating raw oysters

Published July 19, 2018

A Sarasota man died of an infectious bacteria after eating raw oysters.

The bacteria, called Vibrio vulnificus, is often associated with eating raw or under-cooked shellfish or entering into warm coastal waters with exposed wounds.

The 71-year-old Sarasota man was said to have eaten the contaminated oysters on July 8 and died two days later, according to the Florida Department of Health. The name of the restaurant was not released.

Vibrio vulnificus is a rare disease but infections will lead to vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, according to the department's website. If the infection is contracted through the skin, it can lead to skin breakdown and ulcers.

It is recommended that folks do not eat raw shellfish, particularly oysters, since the bacteria exists year round in warm, brackish sea water, according to the department. Instead they should ensure that their shellfish are cooked thoroughly.

They also should not enter the water with an open wound, but should wrap or protect any wounds before entering brackish sea water.

Those affected should confer with a doctor if any of these symptoms occur soon after eating raw shellfish or entering the water with open wounds.

Healthy individuals will normally develop a mild disease from infection, health officials said. But an infection can become more serious, leading to lethal in those with a compromised immune system, especially folks suffering from chronic liver disease.

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If the bacteria enters the bloodstream, the infection can become even more serious with a lethal rate of about 50 percent.

"Infections are rare but exposures occur more commonly during the summer months from May to October, when the water is warmer," department officials said in an email reply. "So far this year, there have been a total of 16 cases of Vibrio vulnificus statewide with three confirmed deaths."

This is the first confirmed case of the Vibrio bacteria this year in Sarasota, according to Florida Health. Sarasota had no cases in 2017, and had three confirmed cases of the bacteria and a single death from infection in 2016.

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Pinellas County has had no cases this year. It reported three cases with a single fatality in 2017, and two cases in 2016 — one of which leading to a death.

So far, Hillsborough County has had a single case that resulted in death. There were four confirmed cases in 2017 and one in 2016, with no deaths.

Pasco County has had no cases in 2018, and one non-fatal case each in 2017 and 2017. Hernando County reported one fatal case in 2016 and no cases in 2017 or 2018.

CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story included a photo of oysters at Baytenders Oyster Bar and Steamer in St. Petersburg. The man who died did not eat oysters at this location.