Chemotherapy Patient Contracts Gastrointestinal Infection From Consuming Shellfish


Marine Fisheries ExpertThis case involves a 38-year old female patient who had recently received chemotherapy treatment for cervical cancer. The patient went to a wedding in Maine and consumed shellfish that was offered during the cocktail hour. By the end of the night, the patient had symptoms of food poisoning, including nausea and vomiting. She was rushed to the hospital and discovered to have acute gastroenteritis and was hospitalized for 5 weeks before the infection was cleared. An expert was sought to speak to the safety mechanisms that exist to mitigate the risk of consumers contracting food-borne illnesses from shellfish.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. What safeguards exist to prevent consumers from developing food-borne infections from shellfish?

Expert Witness Response E-225389

The type of bacteria implicated here is a virulent species of the same genus that causes cholera in humans and is a primary cause of foodborne illness associated with consumption of raw shellfish. Somewhere around half of the cases of gastrointestinal illness due to consumption of raw shellfish are a result of ingestion of bacterium at sufficient dosage to cause illness. This bacterial species occurs naturally in coastal waters of North America, especially in temperate and subtropical brackish nearshore habitats. Food handlers should be aware of the possibility of the presence of bacteria in raw shellfish, and should, therefore, make every effort to maintain shellfish live, at refrigerated temperatures during transport and storage. Bacteria reproduce rapidly if the temperature is elevated above the cold, safe storage temperature, as well as in dead bivalves. Pregnant women and immune-compromised patients, including those receiving chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy, are advised against consumption of raw seafood. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA) conducts screening for this and other pathogens in areas known to have seasonal populations of this microorganism, which can be especially problematic during the summer months.

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