Jeanette LeBlanc got a small scrape when she shucked the raw oysters she had picked up at a Westwego, Louisiana market on a crabbing trip with her friends and family in September.
LeBlanc’s stepdaughter, Jennifer Bergquist, told People the Texas woman, 55, had eaten about “a dozen” more oysters than the others.
Less than two days later, LeBlanc’s health began to decline. She developed a rash on her legs and was having breathing problems, CBS 10 reported. LeBlanc’s friend, Karen Bowers, told the news station they thought it was “an allergic reaction of sorts.”
But LeBlanc got worse. Doctors diagnosed her with vibriosis, a flesh-eating bacteria, ABC 13 reported. People can become infected by eating raw or undercooked shellfish, particularly oysters, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The bacteria can also cause a skin infection when an open wound is exposed to salt water or brackish water, which is a mixture of fresh and sea water.
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LeBlanc had been in contact with both, according to CBS 10.
Another relative, Shannon Rose, told People that LeBlanc, who had undergone several surgeries as her condition worsened, knew she likely wouldn’t survive.
“She understood what was happening to her,” Rose told the publication. “One day, she said something like, ‘I’m gonna die today,’ ” Rose said.
LeBlanc died in October, after battling the illness for 21 days, ABC 13 reported.
According to the CDC, most people who contract vibriosis recover after about three days. But those who become infected with Vibrio vulnificus, one of a dozen species of Vibrio bacteria, can become seriously ill. About 1 in 4 people with that type of infection die, sometimes within a day or two of getting sick.
The CDC says about 80% of vibriosis infections occur between May and October, when water temperatures are warmer.
Dr. Fred Lopez, of Louisiana State University’s School of Medicine, told CBS 4 that the best way to make sure oysters are safe for consumption is to cook them. Lopez told the news station that “high, sustained temperatures” are required to kill the organism.
LeBlanc’s wife, Vicki Bergquist, told CBS 10 if they had know the risk was so high, she thinks LeBlanc would have stopped eating the oysters.
“Losing her was the hardest part,” Bergquist, 60, told People. “We spent every day together. We had such a good life together. She knew how much I loved her.”