After a man ate a common dish for dinner, he woke up to a nightmare. There was something very wrong with his hand, and oddly, it was related to what he ate the day before. Now, people are swearing off the popular food for good. Will you?
Vibrio vulnificus: You’ve probably never heard of it, but if you are a lover of one increasingly popular dish, you should be aware of what it is and the consequences of it. Also called V. vulnificus, it is a bacteria that can cause serious problems if you don’t know how to stay safe. One 71-year-old man found out the hard way when his dinner led to his arm being amputated. Yes, this is real, and it was even published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
After having a fever for two days and “excruciating pain” in his left hand, the unnamed 71-year-old man presented to an emergency room, Health reported. A dark purple blister covered much of his palm with more swelling and discoloration on the back of his hand. The cause? Just 12 hours before the blister developed, he had eaten raw seafood — something more and more Americans eat regularly as the popularity of sushi increases.
Vibriosis is an infection caused by the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria, which is notorious for lurking in uncooked fish, and it can have devastating consequences as this man quickly found out. Although it usually causes GI symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain, it’s also sometimes referred to as “flesh-eating” bacteria for a frightening reason — one this man’s story depicts all too well.
Doctors performed an urgent surgical intervention, draining the blister and discovering the man was infected with Vibrio vulnificus. He was started on IV antibiotics, but it was too late, according to Metro. The damage was done. According to the case report in the NEJM, the man had a history of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and end-stage renal (kidney) disease for which he was receiving dialysis. Because patients with immunocompromising conditions are at increased risk for infection and complications, he didn’t get better.
The skin lesions caused by the bacteria progressed to “deep necrotic ulcers” as his flesh died, despite treatment. The unnamed man’s skin had rotted so badly that he required an amputation of his left arm in order to save his life. Just 25 days after he first presented with the shocking symptoms, his arm was amputated. And, it was all because he ate bad sushi.
Vibrio vulnificus lives in salt or brackish water and exposure can occur a couple of ways. First, it can cause skin infections after wound exposure to contaminated seawater. Secondly, it can result in primary septicemia through the consumption of contaminated raw or undercooked seafood which was exposed to the bacteria in the water in which it lived. Raw oysters and other filter feeders are especially problematic.
In other words, vibriosis is a known risk of consuming raw or undercooked seafood. And, amputation of a limb isn’t the only risk. It can kill you. In another case, an elderly man, also 71 years old, died after eating raw oysters. In a different case, a man died after unknowingly swimming in contaminated water with a new tattoo, an open wound that allowed the bacteria to enter his body. However, consumption of contaminated food is the more likely cause of vibriosis.
And, the infection is more common than many sushi-lovers realize. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 80,000 Americans (1 case per every 4,000 people) get sick with vibriosis every year and approximately 100 of those people die. Of those 80,000 annual cases, around 52,000, or 65%, are caused by eating contaminated food.
While anyone is at risk of vibriosis if exposed to the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria, people with weakened immune systems due to underlying health conditions are much more likely to face dire consequences from the infection. Those who are otherwise healthy are much more likely to effectively fight off the infection before it threatens life or limb. However, once a bloodstream infection occurs, the prognosis is grim with about 50% of bloodstream infections being fatal.
There is a reason raw and undercooked food comes with a warning. If you choose to go raw anyway, it’s extremely important to follow some general food safety guidelines. First, only order sushi from reputable restaurants that refrigerate fish and other seafood properly. It should never be let out for more than two hours. As for oysters, you want to order them cooked, which is sad news for raw bar fans. But, it’s better to be safe than sorry — or armless or even dead. I like food, but there isn’t a meal out there worth my life or my limb.