LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) – Doctors are warning about the risks of eating raw oysters after an Acadiana visitor contracted a flesh-eating bacteria and died.
Texas resident Jeanette LeBlanc died last year after eating raw oysters and walking through brackish waters in South Louisiana. Doctors told her she was infected with Vibrio vulnificas, a flesh-eating bacteria found in raw seafood and in brackish water, a mixture of salt water and fresh water.
According to medical research, only 50 percent of those infected with Vibrio vulnificas survive.
LeBlanc’s wife Vicki Bergquist said Leblanc’s symptoms showed up shortly after ingesting the raw oysters.
“About 36 hours later she started having extreme respiratory distress, had a rash on her legs and everything,” Bregquist recalls.
Dr. Nicolas Sells, director of infectious diseases of University Hospital and Clinics in Lafayette, said Vibrio vulnificus infects 80 thousand people nationwide a year, causing 100 deaths.
“I’ve taken care of several cases. Probably seven or eight in the last two years. Some are, frankly, septicemic and the remainder had localized tissue infections and were treated and did well,” explains Dr. Sells.
Vibrio vulnificus is found anywhere along the U.S. coast, although the majority of cases tend to be around the Gulf Coast. The bacteria attacks the body in two ways: a skin infection that can spread to the rest of the body or septicemia, a bloodstream infection, which produces blistering skin lesions.
LeBlanc was septic within the first 48 hours.
“She was really a trooper through the whole thing. She was on dialysis, she had the wounds, physically her body was just wrecked from the bacteria,” said Bergquist.
“It has a predilection for folks with immune systems that aren’t quite the norm: diabetes, liver disease specifically cirrhotic liver disease, people who are HIV-positive, etc.,” said Sells.
Doctors say there are ways to protect yourself against the flesh-eating bacteria:
- Stay out of brackish water if you have a wound, or cover it with a waterproof bandage.
- Make sure wounds do not come in contact with raw seafood juices.
As far as eating raw oysters, a staple in south Louisiana, Dr. Sells says that’s a personal choice.
“That’s a decision everyone will have to make for themselves. However knowing the risks that are associated with consuming those oysters is very important,” Sells explains.
LeBlanc fought for 21 days before she died. Bergquist said she wants more people to know the risks and protect themselves before it’s too late.
“It’s hard. You have your sad moments and you just go forward, life goes forward. But make sure appreciative of every day. You realize how short life is and you have to grab onto happy moments, happy memories,” said Berquist.
The flesh-eating bacteria has a higher concentration in coastal waters from May to October. Doctors recommend if you see any sign of infection after being in brackish water or eating oysters, go see a doctor right away.