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May 2, 1977

The Safety of Eating Shellfish

Author Affiliations

From the Bacterial Diseases Division, Bureau of Epidemiology, Center for Disease Control, Public Health Service, US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Atlanta. Dr Hughes is now with the Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville.

JAMA. 1977;237(18):1980-1981. doi:10.1001/jama.1977.03270450070031

DURING a recent visit to the Louisiana coast, two friends expressed a craving for raw oysters. We reacted by citing a litany of diseases they could acquire by eating this delicacy. We undoubtedly overreacted (they subsequently consumed the oysters), but they were unaware of diseases that can be acquired by ingesting contaminated shellfish or measures that can be taken to prevent these diseases.

In this communication, shellfish include certain edible, filter-feeding bivalve mollusks (oysters, clams, mussels, cockles) and nonfilter-feeding crustaceans (shrimp, crab, lobsters). Bivalve mollusks thrive in brackish coastal waters and obtain food from the large volumes of seawater that they filter; concurrently, they may accumulate in their alimentary tract microorganisms that are pathogenic for man, particularly if the water they filter contains human sewage. Once contaminated, mollusks can rid themselves of bacteria and viruses only by filtering unpolluted water for a period that may vary from a few hours