Rockville, Maryland–(HISPANIC PR WIRE)–June 30, 2003–The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced the launch of a public health campaign targeted to the Hispanic community.
The campaign is designed to raise awareness about the risks of eating raw oysters for individuals with liver disease and certain other medical conditions that make them more susceptible to infection from the bacterium, Vibrio vulnificus. The FDA is advising these “high risk” individuals to only eat cooked oysters, because cooking destroys the bacterium.
“Last year seven Hispanic men died after eating raw oysters contaminated with a bacterium that is commonly found in waters where oysters are cultivated especially during the warm weather months,” said Mark B. McClellan, M.D., Ph.D., Commissioner of Food and Drugs. “Last year’s deaths suggest that some people in Hispanic communities may not be aware of the risk of this infection from eating raw oysters.”
The common underlying condition of the seven men who died was liver disease, which can be caused by the heavy drinking of alcoholic beverages over a period of time. Diabetes, cancer, iron overload disease, or any illness or medical treatment that weakens the body’s immune system can also put individuals at high risk for Vibrio vulnificus infection.
Many people eat raw oysters during parties and celebrations, while they are drinking alcohol. Frequently, these individuals don’t understand that eating raw oysters can be dangerous to people with liver disease or weakened immune systems.
“Drinking two to three alcoholic drinks each day can cause liver disease. Liver function may be impaired years before an individual begins to experience symptoms,” explained Rosario Quintanilla Vior, public affairs specialist for FDA. “These people may be at high risk for infection from Vibrio vulnificus and they may not even know it,” Quintanilla Vior added.
“You can’t tell if an oyster is contaminated by Vibrio vulnificus by looking at it or by smelling it,” Vior said. “Because heat kills the bacteria, the only way you can be sure you are not eating a contaminated oyster is to eat it cooked.”
To protect themselves from serious illness or death, the FDA is urging anyone whose immune system may be weakened to avoid raw oysters and to cook oysters thoroughly when dining at home, or order them from restaurants cooked when eating out.
Of all food borne diseases, infection with Vibrio vulnificus is one of the most severe. When healthy individuals are affected, mild stomach or intestinal symptoms such as diarrhea or pain may occur. However, 50 percent of the high-risk individuals who are infected with Vibrio vulnificus die.
FDA’s outreach will include a partnership with community-based health organizations and public service announcements. The agency will provide health information in the form of a fotonovela (illustrated storybook that shows what may happen if people with weakened immune systems eat raw oysters contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus) and by distributing public service announcements.
More information about the risks associated with eating raw oysters is available from the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at 1-888-SAFEFOOD or on the Internet at http://www.cfsan.fda.gov. (English only.)
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Rosario Quintanilla Vior