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Rare bacterial infection linked to fish from Asian Food Center

Fish tanks at the Asian Food Center in Bellevue, WA.

Fish tanks at the Asian Food Center in Bellevue, WA.

State and federal officials are investigating the Asian Food Center in Bellevue, WA, after a woman was diagnosed with a rare and sometimes fatal bacterial infection after handling raw fish from the grocery store.

The woman was diagnosed Nov. 10 with Vibrio vulnificus and required hospitalization, but has since returned to her home where her recovery continues, according to a news release from Public Health – Seattle & King County. The “likely source of infection was tilapia fish purchased from the Asian Food Center,” officials reported.

Primary septicemic skin lesions caused by Vibrio vulnificus. Photo courtesy of CDC

Primary septicemic skin lesions caused by Vibrio vulnificus. Photo courtesy of CDC

“Vibrio vulnificus can cause life-threatening illness, so health officials advise that anyone who has eaten or prepared fish from this location before Nov. 17 should be watchful for symptoms of infection for seven days, and people who purchased fish from this location should discard the fish,” according to the public health warning.

Jeff Duchin, health officer for the Seattle & King County department, said in the release that symptoms to watch for include skin infection, fever, chills, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or unexplained serious illness. Anyone who has handled or eaten raw fish and develops these symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.

“At this time, there is no known risk for people who have not been in contact with fish from this location, but people should always take precautions when handling raw seafood,” Duchin said in the release.

The woman who developed the infection probably contracted it when she cut her finger while preparing the tilapia fish, which allowed the bacteria to enter her bloodstream and infect the wound, public health officials reported.

All of the tilapia and other fish processed at the Asian Food Center in  Bellevue were disposed of. Tanks and other equipment was decommissioned until they can be cleaned and disinfected.

“Public Health – Seattle & King County is testing samples of the fish and fish tanks at the Asian Food Center. The investigation focuses on tilapia, but they are also looking into the possibility that other seafood may have been contaminated,” according to the news release.

“Public Health – Seattle & King County is working with the Washington State Department of Health and with the regulatory authorities at the Food and Drug Administration to gather information about the distributors of any contaminated product.”

Vibrio vulnificus is very rare in the Pacific Northwest, according to the public health warning. It is more common in areas with warmer seawater, like the Gulf of Mexico. People can become infected with Vibrio vulnificus if they eat raw or undercooked shellfish, handle contaminated seafood, or have a wound and contaminated seawater gets in the wound.

Public Health – Seattle & King County regularly issues warnings about different types of Vibrio bacteria associated with shellfish. Vibrio vulnificus is a different and potentially more deadly species.

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