Flesh-eating bacteria investigated from Bellevue market fish

Image: KIRO 7 News

A fish from a Bellevue market may be the source of a rare and deadly bacterial infection that sickened a Western Washington woman, according to investigators from Public Health – Seattle and King County.

The likely source of infection was tilapia fish purchased from the Asian Food Center, located at 14509 NE 20th Street.

Called Vibrio vulnificus, the bacteria's symptoms range from vomiting and diarrhea to skin ulcers and swelling. It can cause fatal blood stream infections.




King County Public Health told KIRO 7 News that it can cause severe necrotizing wounds, which are referred to by some as flesh-eating.

>> Related: Doctor answers 6 questions about flesh-eating bacteria

The person who developed the infection did not suffer from necrotizing wounds, but she was hospitalized.

She was preparing the tilapia fish and cut her finger, which allowed the bacteria from the fish to enter and infect the wound.

The woman, in her fifties, is now resting at home.

“Persons who prepared or consumed fish of any kind from this location should contact their healthcare provider if they develop signs of skin infection, fever, chills, or diarrhea in the seven days after contact with the fish,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.

“At this time, there is no known risk for people who have not been in contact with fish from this location, but people should always take precautions when handling raw seafood.”

Public Health – Seattle & King County is testing samples of the fish and fish tanks at the Asian Food Center. The investigation focuses on tilapia, but they are also looking into the possibility that other seafood may have been contaminated. All tilapia and other fish processed at the Bellevue Asian Food Center were disposed of and the tanks and other equipment were decommissioned until they can be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

Here’s a questions-and-answer section provide by Public Health.

Who is at risk

It is important to seek medical care right away if you've handled or eaten fish from the Asian Food Center AND within seven days you develop:

  • a new skin infection (signs of skin infection are redness, tenderness, swelling, streaking and skin blisters)
  • fever and chills
  • diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting
  • any unexplained serious illness

The risk of infection if you ate or handled fish from this location and have no illness after seven days is low.

Certain people are at higher risk for Vibrio vulnificus infection. These include:

  • people with weakened immune systems
  • people with liver disease, including from alcoholism
  • diabetics
  • people with HIV
  • people who take medications to lower stomach acid or who take immune-suppressing medications

How can I prevent a Vibrio vulnificus infection?

To reduce your chances of getting infected with Vibrio vulnificus:

  • Use gloves when handling raw seafood
  • Do not handle raw seafood if you have wounds on your hands or fingers.
  • Wash your hands after handling raw shellfish and other types of seafood.
  • Wash cuts or other wounds thoroughly with soap and water if you have handled raw seafood or come in contact with seawater.
  • Stay out of saltwater if you have wounds, or cover wounds with a waterproof bandage.
  • Don't eat raw or undercooked shellfish. Cooking shellfish and other seafood kills Vibrio bacteria.
  • If you develop signs of infection, contact your doctor and tell them if you have been in contact with seawater, handled raw seafood, or eaten raw or undercooked seafood.
  • For more information, visit: www.cdc.gov/vibrio

About Vibrio

Vibrio are a type of bacteria that are normally in seawater. There are many types of Vibrio that cause illness in humans. 
Vibrio vulnificus is very rare in the Pacific Northwest. It is more common in areas with warmer seawater, like the Gulf of Mexico. People can become infected with Vibrio vulnificus if they

  • eat raw or undercooked shellfish,
  • handle contaminated seafood, or
  • have a wound and contaminated seawater gets in the wound.

Public Health regularly issues warnings about different types of Vibrio bacteria associated with shellfish. Vibrio vulnificus is a different and potentially more deadly species.

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