Tallahassee - Barnacle Bill's in Tallahassee serves up 15,000 oysters on the half shell every week. "There's a risk with the consumption of any raw animal protein," says owner Jeff Stilwell.
A risk two Florida men learned about firsthand. 39-year old Dennis Sharron of Wewahitchka died on November 5th from a bacterial infection he contracted from eating raw oysters. 45 year old James Palmer from Panama City, had his right leg amputated and is still hospitalized.
Vibrio Vulnificus is a bacteria naturally found in the warm waters of the gulf, but some people are more susceptible to getting sick from the strand. People at higher risk include those with Liver disease and iron disorders, Diabetes, Stomach problems, Cancer, Immune disorders, including HIV, and those with long-term steroid use.
Stilwell says, "If you're healthy, dealing with certified dealers, have reputable tags, you should be all right."
Some common misconceptions about eating raw oysters is that a dash of hot sauce or even a sip of alcohol will kill the bacteria, but the truth is, the only way to kill that bacteria is by fully cooking the oysters. An old wives tell says that oysters eaten in months that contain an "R", like NovembeR, will be bacteria free, but that's also a myth. Bacteria generally doesn't spread as fast during fall and winter months, but it's always better to be safe than sick.
"If you have any concerns about whether or not you are susceptible to the bacteria, eat the oyster cooked and you're home free," says Stilwell.
If you have those high risk factors, you also may want to avoid swimming in the ocean. The bacteria found in oysters can be contracted through open wounds and cuts.