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Never eat anything that swallows faster than you do.

At least, not until it's thoroughly cooked. The marine mollusks most favored by gourments--oysters, clams, mussels, and whole scallops--obtain their food by taking in vast amounts of water, from which they retain required nutrients. Unfortunately, in the process, they also retain microorganisms that, although harmless to themselves, affect the humans who consume them.

Among these are bacteria of the genus Vibrio, a particularly hazardous variety. For most of us, a bite of infected shellfish may do little harm--bacteriaa that escape destruction by stomach acid are usually handled by the body's immune system. However, persons with such diseases as diabetes, certain diseases of the liver and gastrointestinal tract, or conditions that suppress the immune system can suffer serious consequences of Vibrio infection because they ate shellfish that was either raw or undercooked.

Chills and fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain are the usual symptoms. In rare instances, Vibrio infection can be fatal--during the period April to December 1992, nine people in Florida died from eating contaminated oysters. Antiulcer drugs (which suppress gastric acid secretion), corticosteroids, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy also make one more vulnerable to these organisms.

The FDA Medical Bulletin of March 1993 estimates that 5-10 percent of raw mollusks sold for human consumption are contaminated with Vibrio organisms. It recommends cooking shellfish thoroughly before serving them, and storing the cooked leftovers at a temperature below 39 [degrees] or above 140 [degrees] F. Cooked shellfish should also be kept separate from uncooked seafood.
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Title Annotation:avoiding shellfish poisoning
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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