Public warned about fish purchases from local live fish tank

SEATTLE — Public health officials have issued a warning to anyone who has purchased fish from a live fish tank at the Seattle Super Market in Beacon Hill.

Officials were informed of a King County man, in his forties, who purchased fish from the location on July 16th. They said he cut his hand while preparing the fish, which allowed the contaminated fish to infect the wound. He has since been hospitalized.

Health officials said Vibrio vulnificus is a rare and sometimes fatal bacterial infection that may have come from fish purchased at the store. People can also become infected by ingesting the contaminated fish. The man’s wife also ate the fish and became ill, but she was not hospitalized.

The Seattle Super Market is located at 4801 Beacon Ave. S. in Seattle. Health officials warn that anyone who has eaten or prepared fish from the store prior to July 25 should look for symptoms, such as fever, abdominal pain, or a new skin infection, within seven days of contact or ingestion of the fish.

Health officials are currently testing a sample of fish and the fish tanks at Seattle Supermarket. All fish processed at the store have been thrown away and the tanks have been decommissioned until they are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

This is the second instance of such bacterial infection in the past year. In November, a Redmond woman contracted Vibrio vulnificus after she cut her hand while preparing a tilapia she purchased from a live tank at Asian Food Center in Bellevue.

Jason Maloney, the manager of Freshy’s Local Market in Mercer Island, said there is still a safe way to buy fresh, live seafood from the tank.

He said the water in the tanks must be clean enough to swim in, and one should be able to see to the back of the tank.

While Freshy’s does not sell live fish from tanks, they do sell a variety of oysters.

“We only bring in maybe about five dozen at a time, so we can consistently have fresh product available. So there’s never any large amount of dead oysters, or anything in the water to contaminate the water. Once the water gets contaminated, everything kind of starts to go downhill from there,” he said.

Maloney said stacking too many fish in a tank together means some of them may already be dead and spreading disease.

Health officials released the following information:

Who is at risk

It is important to seek medical care right away if you've handled or eaten fish, particularly raw fish from the Seattle Supermarket and within seven days 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

If you develop sings of infection, contact your doctor and tell them if you have handled raw seafood or eaten raw or undercooked seafood. If you ate or handled fish from this location and have no illness after seven days your risk of infection is low.

People at a higher risk for Vibrio vulnificus infection include:

  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People with liver disease, including alcoholism
  • Diabetics
  • People with HIV
  • People who take medication to lower stomach acid or who take immune-suppressing medications

To prevent infection of Vibrio vulnificus and other bacteria, you should:

  • Use gloves when handling raw seafood
  • Do not handle raw seafood if you have wounds on your hands or finger
  • 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 handles raw seafood or come in contact with seawater
  • Don't eat raw or undercooked shellfish. Cooking shellfish and other seafood kills Vibrio bacteria

More information is available at: www.cdc.gov/vibrio