Fresh crabmeat, which surprisingly is still being exported from the failed socialist state of Venezuela, has sickened 12 people in three states and the District of Columbia with Vibrio parahaemolyticus infections. Four of the ill have required hospitalization.

The reason that the fresh crabmeat exports are at least somewhat of a  surprise is that most Venezuelan fishermen report they are surviving only because a barter economy has replaced cash sales in a country where shortages are profound and include the severe scarcity of food and medicine.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now warning consumers not to eat fresh crab meat if there is any possibility it originated in Venezuela.

Food contaminated with Vibrio parahaemolyticus looks smells and tastes normal. Anyone who purchases fresh crab meat and does not know its origin should throw in a way because it might be from Venezuela.

In addition to CDC, the multi-state outbreak is being investigated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state and local health officials.

Public health investigators are using the PulseNet system to help identify illnesses that may be part of this outbreak. PulseNet is the national subtyping network of public health and food regulatory agency laboratories coordinated by CDC. 

DNA fingerprinting is performed on Vibrio bacteria isolated from ill people by using techniques called pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and whole genome sequencing (WGS). CDC PulseNet manages a national database of these DNA fingerprints to identify possible outbreaks. WGS gives a more detailed DNA fingerprint than PFGE.

As of July 12, 2018, 12 people infected with Vibrio parahaemolyticus who ate fresh crab meat have been reported from 3 states and the District of Columbia. A list of the states and the number of cases in each can be found on the Case Count Map page. WGS showed that available isolates from people in this outbreak are closely related genetically. This close genetic relationship means that people in this outbreak are likely to share a common source of infection.

Additional ill people associated with this outbreak include people who reported eating crab meat and who had a diagnostic test showing they were infected with Vibrio, which may or may not be the species Vibrio parahaemolyticus.

Illnesses started on dates ranging from April 1, 2018, to July 3, 2018. Ill people range from 26 to 69 years, with a median age of 54. Among ill people, 67 percent are female. Four people (33 percent) have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

This outbreak can be illustrated by a chart showing the number of people who became ill each day. This chart is called an epidemic curve or epi curve. 

Some illnesses might not be reported yet due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported. This takes an average of 2 to 4 weeks. For a more detailed explanation, see the Timeline for Reporting Cases of Salmonella Infection, which is similar for reporting of Vibrio cases.

Investigation of the Outbreak

Epidemiologic evidence indicates that crab meat labeled as fresh or precooked imported from Venezuela is a likely source of this outbreak. The investigation into the source is ongoing.

Public health officials in Maryland first detected this outbreak when they identified Vibrio infections among people who ate crab meat.

FDA and regulatory officials in Maryland traced back the source of the crab meat from the restaurants and grocery stores where ill people bought crab meat. Preliminary evidence gathered in this investigation showed that the crab meat was imported from Venezuela.

Based on the information available at this time, CDC recommends that consumers not eat, restaurants not serve, and retailers do not sell precooked fresh crabmeat imported from Venezuela until further notice. This type of product may be labeled as fresh or precooked. It is commonly found in plastic containers. Food contaminated with Vibrio usually looks, smells, and tastes normal.

This investigation is ongoing. FDA and state regulatory officials are working to determine the distribution of imported crab meat and if it was sold in other states. CDC will provide updates when more information is available.

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