If you’re a particularly big fan of seafood, then I’m sure that oysters sit pretty high on your ranking of delectable delicacies from the sea. They’re not as easy to find as, say, shrimp or salmon, but if you go to the right kind of restaurant and ask very nicely (I’m very big on being kind to servers), you should be able to enjoy them without many problems.
Although they’re usually best served fresh, the oysters in a bar or restaurant should be fine to eat if they’re shucked safely, but it’s not unheard of for people to get sick from eating them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), oysters put around 85 people in the hospital every year, but on this occasion, one woman lost her life after accidentally eating flesh-eating bacteria.
Warning: if you’re a fan of oysters and don’t want to ruin them for yourself or are particularly squeamish, then please read on with caution.
Jeanette LeBlanc, who hailed in Texas, was taking a vacation in Louisiana with her friends and family. With Louisiana on the south coast, there was plenty of seafront activites, including crabbing on the coast and feasting on the local food. When the group decided to enjoy some oysters, LeBlanc obliged – but instead of heading to a restaurant, she headed to a market in Westwego, and picked up a bag of oysters.
Shucking and eating around a dozen oysters herself, it wasn’t long before her body reacted in a negative and quite frightening way. LeBlanc’s wife, Vicki Bergquist, described what happened to a local news outlet, recounting the story in chilling detail: “She started having extreme respiratory distress, had a rash on her legs and everything.”
Within 48 hours, LeBlanc’s condition went from bad to worse, and soon, she was rushed to hospital. Although her friend Karen Bowers initially thought LeBlanc was suffering from an allergic reaction, doctors instead informed Jeanette LeBlanc’s family and friends that she had vibriosis, a terrifying condition found by flesh-eating bacteria of the genus vibrio (which is the same genus responsible for the disease cholera).
The CDC says that vibriosis can be contracted by eating shellfish that’s either raw or undercooked, or by getting brackish water into an open wound. Around 80,000 people every year suffer from vibriosis, but while most people are able to survive the ordeal, LeBlanc was sadly not one of them.
Three weeks after contracting the disease, LeBlanc lost her battle with virbriosis on October 15, 2017. She was 55 years old. Bowers and Bergquist were both devastated to lose someone so close to them. “I can’t even imagine going through that for 21 days, much less a day. Most people don’t last,” said Bowers in tribute, while Bergquist wants to raise awareness about eating oysters so other people don’t suffer the same fate as her partner.
“If we had known that the risk was so high, I think she would’ve stopped eating oysters… She was bigger than life. She was a great person, laughed a lot, loved her family, loved her dad.”
Our thoughts are with Karen Bowers, Vicki Bergquist and the rest of Jeanette LeBlanc’s family at this time.