Raw oysters are a decadent treat, and though some can't stand the texture, others love the briny taste. Jeanette LeBlanc loved oysters, and unfortunately on October 15, she passed away from complications with vibrosis. As reported by KLFY-TV, LeBlanc and her wife Vicki Bergquist were visiting friends and family along the Louisiana coast in September when LeBlanc picked up raw oysters from a market in Westwego, Louisiana.
Her friend, Karen Bowers, split the two dozen raw oysters, and while they tasted just fine, LeBlanc began to experience scary symptoms. Under the impression she was experiencing an allergic reaction, friends noticed that LeBlanc had a rash on her legs in addition to her difficulty breathing. However, within 48 hours, LeBlanc went to the hospital where her condition rapidly deteriorated for 21 days until she passed away.
LeBlanc contracted a flesh-eating bacteria from the raw oysters that translated into severe leg wounds. The bacteria she specifically suffered from was vibriosis, also commonly referred to as vibrio illness by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vibriosis causes "an estimated 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths in the United States every year." The infection is contracted when people consume "raw or undercooked seafood or exposing a wound to seawater." In LeBlanc's case, she experienced both and her symptoms worsened because of it.
Outbreaks of the vibrio bacteria typically occur between May and October, the warmer months of the year. While contracting vibrio infections from raw seafood is possible, the brackish water (where salt water meets fresh water) in coastal waters interacting with open wounds is an extremely detrimental combination. Undercooked shellfish also plays into the severe illness as a foodborne illness. A weakened immune system and previous medical conditions also plays into how serious the skin infection can become.
Bergquist and Bowers are now working to raise awareness around vibrio, as Bergquist told KLFY-TV that, "If we had known that the risk was so high, I think [Jeanette] would've stopped eating oysters." If you experience the following symptoms after consuming raw seafood or exposing wound infections to water along the Gulf Coast, see health professionals immediately. Time is of the essence especially for those with high-risk human illness, like chronic liver disease, and weakened immune systems. Symptoms typically occur within 24 hours of ingestion, and can last for about three days in minor cases.
While most seafood is safe to eat, it is always worthwhile to exercise caution, especially if you experience increasingly disruptive physical symptoms shortly after consuming.
Our thoughts go out to Jeanette LeBlanc's family and wife, Vicki Bergquist.