A Texas woman passed away three weeks after contracting a flesh-eating skin disease from oysters she purchased at a Louisiana market.
In September 2017, Jeanette LeBlanc and her wife Vicki Bergquist went crabbing with loved ones on the shore of Louisiana. Later that day, LeBlanc grabbed a bag of raw oysters from a store in Westwego, KLFY reports.
A friend of the couple, Karen Bowers, said she and LeBlanc shucked and consumed about two dozen oysters. Then, 36 hours later, LeBlanc began experiencing respiratory trouble and other physical symptoms.
“About 36 hours later she started having extreme respiratory distress, had a rash on her legs and everything,” recalled Bergquist.
Bowers said they all thought LeBlanc was having an allergic reaction to the oysters. They took her to the hospital, where doctors diagnosed her with vibrio, an illness caused by vibrio bacteria.
The CDC reports that about 80,000 people contract vibriosis every year in the U.S. About 100 people die of the disease annually. LeBlanc would not have been able to detect the presence of vibrio, since vibrio-infected oysters don't taste or appear different than healthy oysters.
Vibrio occur in warm, salty waters where oysters often dwell. They can infect humans directly by coming in contact with vibrio-contaminated water. About 52,000 people per year contract the disease indirectly by consuming shellfish containing the bacteria.
Approximately 80 percent of cases of vibriosis are contracted between May and October, the time period when LeBlanc was exposed. Most patients experience non life-threatening symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea. Unfortunately unlike most vibriosis cases, LeBlanc did not have a mild infection.
Severe cases of vibriosis can cause bloodstream and skin infections. Certain strains of vibrio can require amputations. Fifteen to 30 percent of the time, these bacterial strains are fatal.
LeBlanc had contracted vibriosis from both the shellfish and the water, KLFY reports. The flesh-eating bacteria had given her severe wounds on her legs.
LeBlanc fought intensely to recover for 21 days. She succumbed to the illness on Oct. 15, 2017.
"She was bigger than life," Bergquist said of her partner. "She was a great person, laughed a lot, loved her family, loved her dad."
Bergquist and Bowers are now trying to raise awareness about vibrio to people who are at risk of contracting it.
"If they really knew what could happen to them and they could literally die within 48, 36 hours of eating raw oysters, is it really worth it?" said Bowers.
Bergquist added that if they'd known of the risk, then LeBlanc probably would not have eaten the oysters.
Sources: KLFY via KTVE, CDC (2, 3) / Featured Image: gautsch./Flickr / Embedded Images: Louisiana Sea Grant College Program Louisiana State University/Flickr, Pamela Spaugy/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District/Flickr