- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 6, 2002

RICHMOND (AP) Two persons have died in Virginia in recent months from a bacterial infection usually associated with eating raw oysters or clams, and six others have fallen ill, according to state health officials.
People with underlying health problems are most at risk of becoming seriously ill from the vibrio bacteria, which also can enter the body through open wounds or sores.
"The chances of getting ill are small, but the consequences for certain people are so great, they need to be warned as much as possible," said Dr. Elizabeth Barrett, assistant state epidemiologist.
State health officials would not release details about the two persons who died. One was from the Richmond area, the other from Northern Virginia.
Health officials in the District also are investigating two deaths including that of a Northern Virginia man that may be associated with eating contaminated oysters purchased from vendors in the District.
Dr. Barrett said the Virginians sickened by vibrio bacteria this year ranged in age from 20 to 69, with most in their 40s or 50s.
"Out of the eight cases, we know one was from a wound," said Dr. Barrett. "We know that five looked like they were due to improperly cooked or raw shellfish. Then two are pretty much unknown."
The state recorded 22 cases of vibrio-related illness last year, 12 cases in each of 2000 and 1999, and 13 cases in 1998. Before this year, the last reported vibrio-related death was an Albemarle County resident in 1999.
There are more than a dozen different types of vibrio bacteria, which occur naturally in coastal waters and which increase during warm weather. Some pose more risk of causing illness than others.
Thoroughly cooking food destroys the bacteria. Health officials also advise people with open wounds or broken skin to avoid exposure to warm salt water or brackish water. People who get a cut while swimming in such water should clean the wound thoroughly and see a doctor if they develop redness or swelling.
How sick people get seems to correlate with how healthy they are to start with.
"Some patients just get sick with gastrointestinal illness, mostly diarrhea," said Dr. Barrett. "It can last for several days."
Symptoms can include stomach pain, vomiting and nausea.
People who tend to get the sickest have underlying illnesses such as liver disease, hepatitis, diabetes or HIV infection, or may be undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. They typically don't get the gastrointestinal symptoms, Dr. Barrett said, but the bacteria goes into their bloodstreams and they develop blood infections.
"They become septic. They get sudden onset of fever, chills, muscle aches," said Dr. Barrett. "They can get pretty awful skin lesions. It usually happens within 24 hours of eating shellfish. They may go into shock. They are really ill and they can die."
Antibiotics can be used to treat some types of vibrio illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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