For centuries, oyster lovers have slurped down raw shellfish, enjoying the taste plus the fact they are low in calories and high in protein, iron, and other nutrients. But as ocean temperatures have warmed, some of the shellfish have become incubators for various species of genus Vibrio bacteria, some of it harmless, some of it causing serious illness or even death in those with compromised immune systems.
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Explore this issueDecember/January 2017
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According to the Molluscan Shellfish Institute of North America, Americans eat about 2.5 billion oysters each year, farmed rather than native-grown, as the latter populations have declined due to disease and other factors over the years.
Though Vibrio occur naturally in ocean saltwater and around estuaries and brackish water, their escalation in oysters, which filter feed and thus build up the bacteria, didn’t start until the 1970s when growers who had avoided selling the shellfish during the summer months to give them a chance to reproduce instead began selling them year-round, says Robert Tauxe, MD, MPH, deputy director, CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases based in Atlanta.
“The oyster harvests in the old days were suspended in the summer to let the oysters breed,” says Dr. Tauxe. “That changed in the 1970s and that is when Vibrio surfaced.”
He also notes while Vibrio occurs naturally, there is some suspicion that its movement from the Gulf of Mexico to northern U.S. oceans may be the result of its transfer in ballast water on ships, especially those in oil ports.
“Warm water increases the prevalence of Vibrio infections,” Dr. Tauxe says. Though infections are rare, they are most prevalent within the Gulf of Mexico coast from April to October. “It’s particularly important for people in the Gulf area during warm seasons to stay out of the water. Vibrio are champions among multipliers. They can multiply every 15-18 minutes.”| | | Next → | Single Page
About Lori Valigra
Lori Valigra writes about science, technology, and business for general and specialty news outlets in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, including coverage of the "farm to fork" movement and food safety. She’s been involved in several media startups, and had articles published by The Boston Globe, Reuters, Science magazine, and others. She holds an MS in science journalism from Boston University and a BS in medical writing from University of Pittsburgh. She won numerous journalism fellowships and awards, including the Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Lori enjoys bicycling, snowshoeing, gardening, and traveling. She lives in the western mountains of Maine. Reach her at email@example.com.