Public Health Investigates Rare Bacterial Infection from Raw Seafood

Public Health investigates rare bacterial infection associated with raw seafood

King County Woman Diagnosed with Rare,Sometimes Fatal, Infection

From Public Health – Seattle & King County

Summary: After a King County woman was diagnosed with a rare and sometimes fatal bacterial infection, Vibrio vulnificus, public health officials are investigating the possibility that the bacteria came from tilapia fish purchased locally. Public Health cautions anyone who has come into contact with raw fish to seek medical care if they develop symptoms of infection.

A King County resident was diagnosed on November 10th with a rare wound infection caused by the bacteria Vibrio vulnificus. The likely source of infection was tilapia fish purchased from the Asian Food Center, located at 14509 NE 20th St. in Bellevue.

Vibrio vulnificus can cause life-threatening illness, so health officials advise that anyone who has eaten or prepared fish from this location before November 17 should be watchful for symptoms of infection for 7 days, and people who purchased fish from this location should discard the fish.

“Persons who prepared or consumed fish of any kind from this location should contact their healthcare provider if they develop signs of skin infection, fever, chills, or diarrhea in the seven days after contact with the fish,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “At this time, there is no known risk for people who have not been in contact with fish from this location, but people should always take precautions when handling raw seafood.”

The person who developed the infection, a woman in her fifties, was hospitalized and is now recovering at home. Her infection likely resulted while she was preparing the tilapia fish and cut her finger, which allowed the bacteria from the fish to enter and infect the wound.

Public Health – Seattle & King County is testing samples of the fish and fish tanks at the Asian Food Center. The investigation focuses on tilapia, but they are also looking into the possibility that other seafood may have been contaminated. All tilapia and other fish processed at the Bellevue Asian Food Center were disposed of and the tanks and other equipment were decommissioned until they can be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

Public Health – Seattle & King County is working with the Washington State Department of Health and with the regulatory authorities at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to gather information about the distributors of any contaminated product.

Who is at risk

It is important to seek medical care right away if you’ve handled or eaten fish from the Asian Food Center AND within seven days you develop:

  • a new skin infection (signs of skin infection are redness, tenderness, swelling, streaking and skin blisters)
  • fever and chills
  • diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting
  • any unexplained serious illness

The risk of infection if you ate or handled fish from this location and have no illness after seven days is low.

Certain people are at higher risk for Vibrio vulnificus infection. These include:

  • people with weakened immune systems
  • people with liver disease, including from alcoholism
  • diabetics
  • people with HIV
  • people who take medications to lower stomach acid or who take immune-suppressing medications

How can I prevent a Vibrio vulnificus infection?

To reduce your chances of getting infected with Vibrio vulnificus:

  • Use gloves when handling raw seafood
  • Do not handle raw seafood if you have wounds on your hands or fingers.
  • Wash your hands after handling raw shellfish and other types of seafood.
  • Wash cuts or other wounds thoroughly with soap and water if you have handled raw seafood or come in contact with seawater.
  • Stay out of saltwater if you have wounds, or cover wounds with a waterproof bandage.
  • Don’t eat raw or undercooked shellfish. Cooking shellfish and other seafood kills Vibrio bacteria.
  • If you develop signs of infection, contact your doctor and tell them if you have been in contact with seawater, handled raw seafood, or eaten raw or undercooked seafood.
  • For more information, visit: www.cdc.gov/vibrio

About Vibrio

Vibrio are a type of bacteria that are normally in seawater. There are many types of Vibrio that cause illness in humans.
Vibrio vulnificus is very rare in the Pacific Northwest. It is more common in areas with warmer seawater, like the Gulf of Mexico. People can become infected with Vibrio vulnificus if they

  • eat raw or undercooked shellfish,
  • handle contaminated seafood, or
  • have a wound and contaminated seawater gets in the wound.

Public Health regularly issues warnings about different types of Vibrio bacteria associated with shellfish. Vibrio vulnificus is a different and potentially more deadly species.