Tilapia from a fish tank in a Seattle grocery store has tested positive for Vibrio vulnificus bacteria and is the probable source of an outbreak, according to public health officials.

Sales of all live fish are “on hold” at the Seattle Supermarket on Beacon Avenue South, according to a Monday night alert from the Seattle & King County Public Health Department. The investigation is ongoing and the local officials are consulting with the Washington State Department of Health to find the source of the implicated fish and details on where it was distributed.

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One man is in the hospital with a confirmed Vibrio vulnificus infection. He became ill July 17. His wife was also sickened, but is recovering at home. Another person, confirmed in November 2016 with an infection from Vibrio vulnificus, also ate fish from a grocery store live tank, according to the health department notice. The department described the illnesses as an outbreak.

“(The department) conducted on-site investigation of Seattle Supermarket and the fish delivery truck and collected tilapia and environmental samples for Vibrio testing at Washington Public Health Laboratory,” according to the Monday night notice.

“(We are) working with Seattle Supermarket to ensure that the tanks and fish processing area are cleaned and disinfected before being put back into service.”

Local health department investigators also collected samples of uneaten fish from the hospitalized man’s home, which was purchased at the Seattle Supermarket on Beacon Avenue South. That fish also tested positive for Vibrio vulnificus.

The hospitalized man not only ate the tilapia from the Seattle Supermarket fish tank, he also prepared it, as did the person who was sickened in November 2016.

“The person who developed the infection, a man in his 40s, is currently hospitalized. His infection likely resulted while he was preparing the fish and cut his hand, which allowed the bacteria from the fish to enter and infect the wound,” according to a July 25 public health alert from Seattle & King County Public Health. “He and his wife also ate the cooked fish. His wife became ill, but she was not hospitalized.”

Advice to consumers
In the Monday night alert update, public health officials reported the man remains hospitalized. They also renewed their warnings.

“If you purchased fish at Seattle Supermarket before July 25, you should throw it away,” according to the alert.

Anyone who has handled or eaten fish from the grocery store on Beacon Avenue South and become sick within seven days is urged to seek medical attention immediately. Symptoms to watch for include:

  • a new skin infection, which can cause redness, tenderness, swelling, streaking and/or skin blisters;
  • fever and chills;
  • diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and/or vomiting; or
  • any unexplained serious illness.

There is no known risk of infection for people who have not been in contact with fish from the Seattle Supermarket on Beacon Avenue South, Health Officer Jeff Duchin said in the July 25 alert.

“But people should always take precautions when handling raw seafood,” Duchin said in the alert.

To reduce chances of becoming infected with Vibrio vulnificus and other bacteria in raw seafood, follow these precautions:

  • Use gloves when handling raw seafood;
  • Do not handle raw seafood if you have wounds on your hands or fingers;
  • Wash your hands after handling raw shellfish and other types of seafood;
  • Wash cuts or other wounds thoroughly with soap and water if you have handled raw seafood or come in contact with seawater;
  • Stay out of saltwater if you have wounds, or cover wounds with a waterproof bandage; and
  • Don’t eat raw or undercooked shellfish. Cooking shellfish and other seafood to 145 degrees F kills Vibrio bacteria.

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