Marine Fisheries investigating oyster harvest area following man’s death


WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY/WTVD) — A man is dead after contracting a harmful bacteria from eating oysters while visiting in the Cape Fear, according to family friends.

David Argay, of Cary, contracted vibrio in Wilmington and died Thursday at WakeMed hospital in Raleigh.

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North Carolina Marine Fisheries confirms Argay did not eat oysters that were harvested off our coast.

Shawn Nelson with the state’s Division of Marine Fisheries says their agency is investigating, but would not confirm which restaurant Argay ate at; leaving many local businesses on our coast wanting to clear the air.

Keith Rhodes, who owns Catch seafood in Wilmington, where we know the victim did not eat says the handling process of the oysters that allegedly led to the death of Argay should be looked at.

Rhodes says, when fresh catch is delivered, the temperature is documented to prevent vibrio from reaching harmful levels, but not everyone follows the rules.

Vibrio is a bacteria that lives in saltwater. There are 200 recognized species of marine vibrios but only a few can cause significant problems.

“There are some purveyors, who may source oysters, pull them out of the ocean, bag them, throw them in the back of their truck, run some errands and then deliver them that is totally not the way it should be done,” Rhodes said.

Nelson says they will visit the growing area where the shellfish was harvested and also look at how or if there was any temperature abuse in the process.

Rhodes has been serving up seafood dishes for more than 20 years and is standing by his product.

“My purveyors will call and say ‘We won’t have any oysters this week,” Rhodes said. “‘They closed the fishery. So, you might come in and we might not have any raw oysters and people will say: ‘Why? Why don’t you have them tonight? We came especially for that.’ Well it’s because the state said right now they are testing and making sure they are safe for the public.”

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, vibrio infections are associated with eating raw or under-cooked shellfish such as oysters, clams, shrimp and scallops.

But, Nelson says vibrio will not multiply in temperatures below 45 degrees and will be destroyed in fully cooked oysters.

On Thursday, New Hanover County Chief Communications Officer Jessica Loeper emailed WWAY a statement which reads: “New Hanover County Public Health is familiar with the case that we think you are referring to, but we do not have any medical information or details on the person in terms of their particular illness or how it was contracted. Another county investigated the illness, and we have no confirmation of the source of the illness.”

Loeper’s goes on to state, “We coordinated with the state and the other county to visit an establishment listed as an activity by the patient and our Environmental Health staff confirmed that they were handling their product correctly and found no out-of-compliance issues.”

Loeper said the county did not have confirmation of the source of the illness.

Health officials said these types of infections can be prevented by thoroughly cooking seafood or shellfish especially oysters and not exposing open wounds to seawater.

Most infections occur from May through October when water temperatures are warmer.

The CDC reports vibrio causes an estimated 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths a year in the United States.