The Hillsborough County Health Department is warning residents and visitors to stay clear of raw oysters harvested from Tampa Bay.
Health officials say eating raw or undercooked oysters or swimming or wading with open wounds in local waters can cause a potentially life-threatening illness from the bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus.
This year, two Hillsborough County residents lost their lives to Vibrio
vulnificus infections. In addition, five other cases of Vibrio have been
reported in the county.
The microscopic bacterial organism, Vibrio vulnificus, occurs naturally in
coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It is
especially common during the summer months when water temperatures are warmer.
Depending on the type of exposure, Vibrio bacteria can cause several types of illness ranging from wound infections to serious gastrointestinal disease. Overall death rates from Vibrio vulnificus infection exceed 40 percent, and for certain high-risk individuals, fatality increases dramatically.
Serious complications and death are more likely to occur in high-risk
individuals with the following conditions:
- Liver disease (for example: hepatitis, cirrhosis, alcoholism)
- Cancer (for example: lymphomas, leukemia, Hodgkin's disease)
- Iron overload disease (also known as hemochromatosis)
- Any illness or medical treatment that weakens the body's immune system (for example: HIV)
The health department is asking residents to:
- Cook shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels) thoroughly.
- For shellfish in the shell, either:
- a) boil until the shells open and continue boiling for five more minutes, or
- b) steam until the shells open and then continue cooking for nine more minutes. Do not eat those shellfish that do not open during cooking. Boil shucked oysters at least three minutes, or fry them in oil at least 10 minutes at 375 degrees.
- Avoid cross-contamination of cooked seafood and other foods with raw seafood and juices from raw seafood.
- Eat shellfish promptly after cooking and refrigerate leftovers.
- Avoid exposure of open wounds or broken skin to warm salt or brackish water, or to raw shellfish harvested from such waters.
- Wear protective clothing (e.g., gloves) when handling raw shellfish.
Anyone who experiences signs of skin infection, such as redness or swelling, after contact with seawater, or becomes ill after eating raw or undercooked seafood, should seek medical attention immediately.
For more information on Vibrio vulnificus, visit