Two Women Dead After Eating Raw Oysters - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

09/28/06

Two Women Dead After Eating Raw Oysters

Oysters like the ones pictured are immensely popular this time of year. Oysters like the ones pictured are immensely popular this time of year.

It's one of those delicacies on the coast: raw oysters on the half shell. Unfortunately, some have proven deadly now.

Two people in Chatham County have died from eating raw oysters, and while the Georgia Department of Agriculture is trying to figure out where they came from, businesses that rely on them are worrying.

State officials aren't saying much at this point other than two women with weak immune systems have died, but they don't know which businesses the women got them from. They think the oysters may have come from the Gulf of Mexico, but aren't 100% sure yet.

In a warning sent out late Thursday afternoon, the Department of Agriculture said, "The women are suspected to have died from vibrio vulnificus, a naturally occurring marine microorganism that can be fatal, especially to people with compromised immune systems."

That press release went to the media, but not to any restaurants or seafood markets that WTOC contacted.

"I think the Department of Agriculture just went about it the wrong way," said Charlie Teeple, owner of Charlie Teeple's Sea Products.

Teeple says this is the first week of the new season of local oysters, and unexpected news of something like this could be disastrous to business. "Oh this is in our backyard. I mean, this is home. I just can't imagine anyone eating a raw oyster."

In fact, his sales were impacted less than an hour after the story that ran on THE News at 6, because one of his customers got worried.

"She said 'I just don't feel like eating them.' And I said 'Well, I can understand that. Bring them back and I'll be glad to refund your money on them,'" said Teeple. "And she has been here, and we refunded her money."

Agriculture commissioner Tommy Irvin told WTOC that generally healthy people should have no problems, and they've been urging people for years to stay away from raw oysters if they have any health problems.

The statement from the Department of Agriculture says restaurants have to put up warnings about raw oysters for a reason, and anyone worried about their health should opt for cooked oysters.

For more information, the Department of Agriculture asks people to visit www.safeoysters.org.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite, ccowperthwaite@wtoc.com

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