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Marylanders warned to avoid Venezuelan crab meat after nine sickened by Vibrio bacteria

State health officials are warning consumers to avoid unpasteurized Venezuelan crab meat because they believe it has sickened nine people in Maryland with infections of Vibrio bacteria.

They have not pinpointed a single source of the contaminated meat. Illnesses have been traced to crab dishes prepared at homes and in restaurants, and the cases are spread around the state.

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Two of the people have been hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported.

Symptoms of food-borne Vibrio infection include watery diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever and chills.

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The Fourth of July is the busiest time of year for Maryland's crab industry. But now that it has passed, uncertainty hangs over the summer and fall.

Venezuelan crab meat was already a concern for many Maryland watermen, but not for health reasons — the imports are major competitors to local seafood. The United States has imported more than 1,000 pounds of Venezuelan crab meat so far this year, fourth-most from any country after Indonesia, China and the Philippines, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Along with worries about a labor shortage in the seafood industry, a crackdown on use of food stamps to buy steamed crabs in Baltimore and a reduced population of Chesapeake Bay crabs this season, the international competition has the state’s seafood industry concerned about the season ahead.

Vibrio infections can be caused by ingestion of water or shellfish that contain the bacteria, or by direct skin exposure to Vibrio-containing salt or brackish water.

The Maryland Board of Public Works on Wednesday granted a state seafood marketing campaign an extra $375,000 to help promote the crab industry as it grapples with a shortage of immigrant workers.

Vibrio is known for causing “flesh-eating” infections because it can cause necrotizing fasciitis in the skin, a type of bacterial infection that destroys the body’s soft tissue.

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Necrotizing fasciitis has not been reported in any of the individuals found to be infected with Vibrio, nor did they report contact with water as being a likely cause of their illness, health officials said.

Anyone who recently ate Venezuelan crab meat and is feeling ill is urged to consult their primary care provider.

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