NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The count continues to rise of the number of people along the Gulf Coast who've contracted a rare, flesh eating bacteria. One local expert explains why you could be at risk eating raw oysters.
Jennifer McLeland lost her leg after dipping her feet into Mississippi Sound for 30 seconds. "I'm thankful that I'm still alive and I take it day by day," McLeland said.
She was infected with Vibrio Vulnificus.
What the Vibrio does is it gets into the blood stream or into the tissues and causes a septic like situation and cuts off the blood supply to the muscle," said Brobson Lutz, M.D., with the Orleans Parish Medical Society.
Lutz says Vibrio is most commonly found in warm water, with a high saline content. While many people are infected, like McLeland by having contact with water, raw oysters can also be a culprit.
"The oysters actually concentrate the bacteria. They filter several gallons of sea water so they can have a high content," Lutz said.
Most people who eat the oysters with Vibrio will only experience some minor stomach issues. Those with weakened immune systems are at risk of becoming seriously ill. Lutz suggests cooking the oysters if you consider yourself to have a compromised immune system. Those folks are also advised not to hit the water, if they've got any type of cut or puncture wound. That provides for easy access for Vibrio to enter the blood stream.
University of Southern Mississippi researcher Jay Grimes, Ph.D., explains what you may see if you contract the bacteria. "If you start getting redness at the site of a lesion or if you start getting redness and you don't even know you have a lesion, and that area starts to swell, you might start getting nauseous," Dr. Grimes said.
Grimes says go to an emergency room immediately.
Despite the warnings, Lutz says it's important to remember, this is a rare bacteria, meaning, people shouldn't panic. "It's a very real phenomena but if you look at it, more people get shot and killed in New Orleans than get Vibrio and die of it in the whole United States in a year," Lutz explained.