I wish to compliment the Sun Sentinel’s Ms. Sally Kestin on her excellent article, “Lawmakers allowing people to eat potentially deadly oysters,” regarding the dangers of eating raw oysters and the possibilities of contracting serious or fatal infections from the bacterium Vibrio vulnificus.
In my capacity as a medical practitioner, I have seen the devastating effects of this insidious organism on vulnerable and otherwise unsuspecting seafood lovers. However, in addition to Vibrio, other bacteria associated with raw oyster illnesses include Campylobacter, salmonella and Shigella. Then there are debilitating viral infective agents such as the hepatitis A virus and norovirus and even parasitic agents like the amoeba Giardia lamblia and intestinal worm Diphyllobothrium.
The reason why raw oysters, in particular, are vilified as marine disease vectors is that they filter prodigious amounts of water — about one and a half gallons per hour per bivalve. Since oysters live in shallow tidal areas, contamination from broken sewer lines and septic tank leakage can make its way into local bays and estuaries.
As the population increases, so does the potential for disease-laden human wastes entering our coastal waters. The oyster’s liver filters contaminates, including microorganisms, and holds them until they can be biologically destroyed or until the organism infects its host. If an unsuspecting person eats such an oyster, the life cycle of the pathogen is passed on to its new host.
Should I seem overly grim, I apologize. Oysters can be delicious and are, indeed, healthful as long as they are properly cooked — usually 3 minutes for boiling, broiling or frying.
Charles Egerton, M.S. in public health, Ph.D.