Next time you order oysters on the half shell and are splashing lemon on the first bite, try not to think of this: The bacterium Vibrio vulnificus is abundant in warm coastal waters where oysters feed.
Vibrio vulnificus can infect humans either through an open wound or through the ingestion of contaminated food, typically oysters and other shellfish. Between 1988 and 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported more than 900 infections in the Gulf Coast states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi. Between 2005 and 2009, 138 people were infected with Vibrio vulnificus in Florida alone, with a significant percent of the foodborne infections caused by contaminated oysters [sources: CDC, Genuardi]
Vibrio vulnificus is in the same family as Vibrio cholerae, the microorganism that causes cholera. That naturally sounds terrifying because cholera is an infamous infectious disease. Vibrio vulnificus, though, causes vibriosis, and symptoms include chills, diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting, skin lesions and, in some instances, shock. Vibrio vulnificus bacterium also is known to cause necrotizing fasciitis, better known as flesh-eating disease.
Maybe instead of going raw, consider ordering the oysters Rockefeller; cooked oysters don't pose a Vibrio vulnificus risk.