Vibrio Fact Sheet

Vibrio bacteria are common and occur naturally in many marine environments.  They are not related to pollution! Most Vibrio bacteria are benign, but many are pathogenic. Two of these species, Vibrio parahaemolyticus (V.p.) and Vibrio vulnificus (V.v.) have been mixed up and conflated in news stories about human illness.

Shellfish, which are filter feeders, can accumulate Vibrio bacteria.  If enough of the bacteria are consumed by humans, illness can result.  The most common symptoms are mild flu-like gastroenteritis that typically passes in two to three days.

V.p. outbreaks are typically associated with shellfish harvested in warmer waters and are common in Japan.  They are also occasionally found on the Pacific and Gulf Coasts, and some outbreaks have been reported on the East Coast.

V.v. infections are mostly associated with swimming or bathing in warm salty or brackish waters by those with cuts, abrasions or open wounds.  Individuals who are immune-compromised (from liver disease, immuno-suppressant drugs, etc.) can have more severe reactions to V.v, including sepsis and, in rare cases, death.  These high-risk individuals should be wary of swimming with wounds and eating raw shellfish or any raw proteins (10% of V.v. cases are linked to raw shellfish consumption), but can safely enjoy thoroughly cooked seafoods.

To ensure the safety of shellfish, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in cooperation with state health departments, carefully regulates shellfish-growing areas and the care and handling of shellfish. The National Shellfish Sanitation Program (NSSP) requires harvesters and dealers to be licensed, inspected and certified.  Our nation's shellfish suppliers are heavily regulated.

Consumers can avoid Vibrio-related illness by following current health advisories and by using proper handling:

  • Only purchase shellfish from certified dealers and retailers.
  • Verify that shellfish is fresh and harvested from an approved area.
  • Make sure shellfish is stored under proper refrigeration or on ice.
  • At-risk consumers should enjoy their shellfish cooked and avoid all raw animal proteins.

Seafood is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. In fact, in the USDA's 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the U.S. government prominently featured recommendations for Americans to maintain a healthy weekly serving of seafood in their diets.  Proteins, vitamins and fatty acids found in seafood contribute to improved cardiovascular and neurological health, as well as to healthy physical development in children.