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Public Health investigates rare infection linked to fish in supermarket tanks


Public health officials are investigating the possibility that a rare and sometimes fatal bacterial infection came from fish purchased from live tanks at a local store. A King County man was diagnosed with a bacterial infection caused by Vibrio vulnificus after preparing and consuming fish purchased from the live fish tanks at this store. Public Health cautions anyone who has come into contact with raw fish to seek medical care if they develop symptoms of the infection.


Public Health — Seattle & King County received a report on July 24th of a King County resident with a rare wound infection caused by the bacteria Vibrio vulnificus. The likely source of infection was fish purchased from a live fish tank at the Seattle Supermarket, located at 4801 Beacon Ave S, Seattle 98108.

Vibrio vulnificus can cause life-threatening illness when ingested or if it enters a skin wound. Health officials advise that anyone who has eaten or prepared fish from this location before July 25 should watch for symptoms of infection for 7 days. People who purchased fish from this location should discard the fish.

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"This is the second case of this illness in the past year and both cases came from preparing and consuming fish purchased from a live fish tank. If you prepared or consumed fish of any kind, contact your healthcare provider if you 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."

The person who developed the infection, a man in his forties, is currently hospitalized. His infection likely resulted while he was preparing the fish and cut his hand, which allowed the bacteria from the fish to enter and infect the wound. He and his wife also ate the cooked fish. His wife became ill, but she was not hospitalized.

Public Health — Seattle & King County is testing samples of the fish and fish tanks at the Seattle Supermarket. The investigation focuses on fish from the live fish tanks, but they are also looking into the possibility that other seafood may have been contaminated. All fish processed at the Seattle Supermarket were thrown away and the tanks and other equipment were decommissioned until they can be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected

Public Health — Seattle & King County is working with the Washington State Department of Health to gather information about the distributors of any contaminated product.

The earlier case of Vibrio vulnificus occurred in a King County woman who prepared tilapia purchased from a live tank at a different store and contracted the infection in November of 2016. She has since recovered.

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 signs of infection, contact your doctor and tell them if you have been in 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.
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

Prevent infection

To reduce your chances of getting infected with Vibrio vulnificus and other bacteria:

  • 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.
  • Don't eat raw or undercooked shellfish. Cooking shellfish and other seafood kills Vibrio bacteria.

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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.

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