BEYOND THE HEDGES: Raw oysters may be fatal

According to physicians from Baylor College of Medicine, people with chronic illnesses who eat raw oysters are playing Russian roulette.

"When you eat an uncooked oyster, you risk exposure to possibly fatal organisms, especially if you have diabetes, liver disease, cancer, AIDS or other severe chronic illnesses," Dr. Herbert DuPont of Baylor College said.

According to DuPont, the only guaranteed safe way to eat oysters is to cook them, because one cannot tell by appearance, smell or taste whether they contain potentially dangerous organisms or not.

The bacterium known as Vibrio vulnificus poses one of the greatest health risks to consumers of raw oysters. These bacteria release a poison that kills body tissue, causing black skin lesions resembling those produced by flesh-eating bacteria.

Initial symptoms develop 24 to 48 hours after the bacteria are eaten and include fever, muscle aches, redness of skin, a drop in blood pressure and light-headedness. Infection by Vibrio vulnificus can be fatal within 24 hours, so immediate medical treatment is required.

"Be sure to tell your doctor that you've eaten raw oysters within the last few days because treatment requires a special type of antibiotic," DuPont said.

Source: Baylor College of Medicine Health Briefs, December 1996.

This item appeared in the News section of the February 14, 1997 issue.

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