Two types of Vibrio vulnificus infections can occur as a result of an at-risk individual consuming a raw oyster(1). These include:

Gastroenteritis – Occurs after ingestion of oysters containing Vibrio vulnificus. Non at-risk patients with gastroenteritis have a relatively mild illness consisting of vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps and rarely require hospitalization.

Primary septicemia – Occurs after oysters containing Vibrio vulnificus are consumed and the bacteria invade the bloodstream via the digestive tract. The illness is characterized by fever and chills, and is usually accompanied by nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. A sharp drop in blood pressure commonly occurs, with possible outcomes of intractable shock and possibly death. The majority of patients also develop painful skin lesions. The skin initially appears red. Blisters develop quickly and erode into necrotic ulcers.

At-risk individuals who choose to continue eating raw oysters may reduce their risk of illness by consuming post-harvest processed oysters. However, eating oysters fully cooked is the most effective method of reducing the risk of oyster related illness in persons who are members of the at-risk group.

Healthy individuals are not at risk of serious infection.

Although Vibrio vulnificus infection is diagnosed by routine stool, wound or blood culture, laboratories should be notified when this infection is suspected so that a special growth medium can be used to culture this bacterium.

The mainstays of medical treatment for Vibrio vulnificus infections are prompt antimicrobial therapy and supportive care. The American Medical Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend treating the patient with a regimen of antibiotics including tetracycline and intravenous doxycycline with ceftazidime.

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