The suit claims the plaintiff "...suffered septic shock, multi-organ failure and the need for prolonged critical care, according to the lawsuit, resulting in physical and emotional pain, an inability to engage in normal activities, substantial medical expenses, significant economic loss and permanent disability and disfigurement." It also claims his wife "...suffered extreme distress, fear, anxiety and uncertainty watching her husband fall from perfect health to a month-long struggle for survival..."
In part, as a result of this illness in 2011, and 12 others who also contracted the disease, tighter regulations on how to handle oysters were created in 2012. That year 27 contracted the disease, followed in 2013 with 58 contracting the disease.
While this has occurred in Massachusetts, over the years, shellfish grown in Washington have been a bigger problem and source of vibriosis. As is now happening in Massachusetts, each year in the summer it is guaranteed people will begin to contract vibriosis from oysters harvested from Washington. Despite knowing this, after almost a decade of trying to control the outbreaks and failing, Washington's Department of Health continues to simply wait until cases of vibriosis are confirmed before closing growing areas. By that time oysters with elevated levels of the naturally occurring bacteria have entered into the distribution chain and are spread throughout the United States, resulting in what the Los Angeles County Department of Health called at one time a "multistate epidemic of Vibrio parahaemolyticus linked to contaminated oysters from Washington state."
What should be of bigger concern to the Department of Health, however, is that the more virulent strain of Vibrio, Vibrio vulnificus, has recently been found in Washington oysters. Originally limited to the Gulf Coast's warm waters, this bacteria is far more deadly. Its ability to enter the bloodstream through the stomach walls and intestines places it in the blood stream where it in turn is carried throughout the body. The toxins it creates can result in open wounds, causing it to sometimes be called a "flesh eating" bacteria. Of those who contract vibriosis from this strain, 50% die. Warming water temperatures will only increase the population of this bacteria, now naturally occurring in Puget Sound.
The Department of Health is responsible for ensuring food from Washington is safe to eat. Given the consistent pattern of outbreaks from oysters harvested from Puget Sound, it is time for them to become more proactive, and less concerned about the economic impact to shellfish growers. Those growers may find the economic impact from lawsuits will be far more significant than a few extra hours taken during the harvest/shipping process.