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A 71-year-old man had his forearm amputated after eating raw seafood

The CDC recommends not eating raw or undercooked fish, crabs or mollusks

CNN  — 

Raw fish, such as sushi, and other uncooked seafood may be delicious, but they also may be dangerous – even life-threatening – if prepared inexpertly.

Case in point: A 71-year old man in South Korea developed an infection after eating raw seafood, and resulting complications required an amputation of his forearm, according to a report published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The man had a history of Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, and he was undergoing dialysis for end-stage renal (kidney) disease. The illness developed within 12 hours of his meal and led to fever and excruciating pain in his left hand.

After two days of suffering, he visited the emergency room at Chonbuk National University Hospital in Jeonju, South Korea.

By the time he reached the hospital, a blood-filled cavity measuring 3.5 by 4.5 centimeters (about 1.5 by 2 inches) had developed on the palm of his left hand, while on the top of his hand and forearm, there was a swelling cavity under the skin.

When his doctors performed urgent surgery, they isolated Vibrio vulnificus, a bacterium commonly found in coastal ocean water, as the cause of his infection.

Vibrio vulnificus

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that these bacteria cause 205 infections each year nationwide. Some cases require amputations, and 15% to 30% of cases are fatal, according to the agency.

After surgery, the man received two powerful antibiotics intravenously. However, the drugs did not keep his skin lesions from worsening, and doctors performed an amputation of his left forearm 25 days after his arrival at the ER.

“The patient did well after the surgery and was discharged home,” the authors of his case report concluded.

The man's hand and arm were swollen by the time he reached the ER.

Vibrio vulnificus – sometimes incorrectly referred to as “flesh-eating bacteria” – is one of a family of 12 bacterial species that cause sickness in humans. Symptoms of these infections can include watery diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever and chills. Generally, these infections do not require treatment, and severe illness is rare, according to the CDC.

About 80% of infections happen between May and October, when coastal waters are warmest, and mostly they result from eating infected shellfish, with oysters a common culprit. Still, you can also become infected if bacteria in the water enter an open wound or cut, the CDC says.

Although the South Korean patient’s amputation certainly ranks among the most hair-raising possibilities that can occur after you eat raw fish, other dangers lurk in raw or poorly cooked meals, as well.


The growing popularity of sushi and other raw or undercooked fish and seafood dishes in Western countries has led to an increase in illness caused by anisakid nematodes (worms), according to a study published last year in BMJ Case Reports.

Anisakiasis results from eating fish or seafood contaminated with that parasite.

When the worms invade the stomach wall or intestines, the result is gastrointestinal pain, nausea and vomiting, according to the CDC. Some people dev