Venezuelan Crab Meat Tied to Vibrio Parahaemolyticus Outbreak in Multiple States

Initial investigations indicated crab meat is responsible for vibrosis infections that have sickened 12 individuals.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning Americans to avoid fresh crab meat imported from Venezuela at all costs as it has been linked with a multistate outbreak of Vibrio parahaemolyticus, a bacterium of the same family as those that cause cholera.

The CDC reports that as of July 12, 2018, 12 individuals spanning 4 jurisdictions have been infected with the bacterium after having consumed crab meat; 4 individuals have required hospitalization for their illnesses. No deaths have been reported at this time.

Vibrosis cases have been popping up across the country, and can be transmitted as water-borne infections when open wounds are exposed to bacteria or from consuming foods that have been contaminated.

The CDC has issued a joint warning with the US Food and Drug Administration for consumers to avoid crab meat from Venezuela and any crab meat that has not been labeled with where it has been imported from. The crab meat is commonly found in plastic containers and typically looks, smells, and tastes normal and may be labeled fresh or pre-cooked, according to the CDC.

Illnesses are thought to have begun as far back as April 1, 2018 and have continued through July 3, 2018, with the 12 ill individuals ranging in age from 26 to 69, and a median age of 54, the CDC reports. Additionally, 67% of those who have fallen ill are female.

Whole genome sequencing performed on the bacteria isolated from the ill individuals determined that the isolates are closely genetically related, which suggests that the affected individuals are likely to share a common infection source.

In addition to the 12 cases of Vibrio parahaemolyticus, the CDC reports that there are additional ill individuals who reported eating crab meat and were confirmed to be infected with Vibrio via diagnostic testing. It has not yet been confirmed if the bacteria found in these individuals is the species Vibrio parahaemolyticus. Regardless, the CDC warns that case counts may rise, as some cases might not have been reported yet; it takes an average of 2 to 4 weeks from when an individual first falls ill to when the illness is actually reported. This timeline for reporting Vibrio cases is similar to that of Salmonella infections.

The outbreak was first detected by health officials in Maryland when they experienced an influx of Vibrio cases amongst individuals who reported eating crab meat. Alongside the FDA, Maryland state officials traced the source of the crab meat back to grocery stores and restaurants where the ill individuals had purchased the meat, and preliminary evidence showed that the meat has been imported from Venezuela.

Vibrio infections that are transmitted via contaminated food may cause watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and fever. Symptoms typically develop within 24 hours and persist for about 3 days. Populations with a higher risk of infection include individuals with HIV, cancer, liver disease, diabetes, or thalassemia, individuals with weakened immune systems or who are receiving immune-suppressing therapy, and individuals taking medicine to decrease stomach acid or those who have had recent stomach surgery. If you are a health care provider living in one of the jurisdictions affected by the outbreak, please be cognizant of these symptoms.

The investigation is ongoing and health officials are investigating whether the imported crab meat had been distributed in any other states.

The CDC will provide more updates as more information becomes available.

For the most recent case counts associated with the Vibrio parahaemolyticus outbreak tied to Venezuelan crab meat, check out the Contagion® Outbreak Monitor.

Feature Picture Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.