By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Apr 26, 2024
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Alice! Health Promotion. "Can I get Hepatitis A from eating raw seafood?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 26 Apr. 2024, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/can-i-get-hepatitis-eating-raw-seafood. Accessed 24, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2024, April 26). Can I get Hepatitis A from eating raw seafood?. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/can-i-get-hepatitis-eating-raw-seafood.

Dear Alice,

I love sushi, sashimi, and oysters on the half shell. I apparently am uneducated (ignorant) when it comes to the health risks associated with eating raw seafood. I read in an article that a person could contract hepatitis A and worms. Is hepatitis A something that is "curable"? Are ANY of the diseases/problems associated with eating raw fish NOT "curable?"

Dear Reader, 

Could your tasty treats be harboring more than just desirable flavor? You’re correct that the hepatitis A virus can be found in some raw shellfish, especially if it was raised in water contaminated with fecal matter. Eating raw fish or seafood could also cause other conditions, such as parasitic worms. However, with some precautions, you can reduce the chances of getting ill from your lunch! 

While there’s no cure for hepatitis A, this type of infection typically resolves on its own within six months. If symptoms are present, they often include fatigue, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, yellowing skin, and dark urine. Severe symptoms, such as liver failure, can occur in vulnerable populations, including: 

  • Men who have sex with men (MSM) 
  • Those who use injection drugs or share needles 
  • Unhoused people 
  • Older adults 
  • Those who haven’t received the hepatitis vaccine 

Some ways to prevent hepatitis A include proper hand hygiene and receiving the hepatitis A vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Center (CDC), anyone over 12 months old can receive the hepatitis A vaccine, which requires two doses spaced at least six months apart. For more information, it may be helpful to speak with a health care provider, as they can help you decide whether vaccination is right for you. 

As you mentioned, there are other conditions that, although rare, may also be of concern when consuming raw fish or seafood. This can include: 

  • Parasitic worms: Eating seafood, especially raw, may expose you to parasitic worms. While they’re often expelled through coughing or vomiting, or treated through medication, surgery, or an endoscopy if they persist. 
  • Norovirus: Norovirus, a group of viruses that causes gastroenteritis or the “stomach flu,” typically spreads through close contact with an infected individual. However, oysters and seafood can be naturally contaminated. While there’s no cure for norovirus, infection often resolves after one to three days with proper hydration. 
  • Shellfish or ciguatera fish poisoning: Shellfish and fish may consume more algae in waters with increased algae blooms, causing them to become toxic. There is no cure, however, proper hydration should resolve these conditions. 
  • Scombroid fish poisoning: This common fish poisoning is caused by eating fish that hasn’t been properly refrigerated after being caught. Symptoms are typically mild and should resolve on their own. However, antihistamines can treat more severe symptoms. 
  • Salmonella: Salmonella typically lives in animal or human intestines but can also be found in seafood. This happens if the water was contaminated with fecal matter or if the seafood was improperly handled. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and cramps that typically resolve on their own after a few days. 
  • Traveler’s diarrhea: A common cause of this condition is Campylobacter bacteria commonly found in birds, shellfish, and other animals called campylobacters. Consumption of food that’s been contaminated with Campylobacter can cause watery or bloody diarrhea, cramps, pain, vomiting, and a fever. Symptoms typically resolve on their own, however, antibiotics may be prescribed in severe cases. 
  • Vibriosis: Vibrio, a bacterium that lives in coastal waters, can concentrate in oysters, since they feed by filtering water. Eating raw or undercooked oysters infected with Vibrio can cause symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting that resolve on their own. Severe symptoms such bloodstream infections and skin blistering are uncommon. 

While there may be potential consequences of eating raw or undercooked seafood, there are also numerous benefits! It’s also worth noting that for certain populations, consuming raw fish is central to their culture, traditions, or heritage. Fish are a low-fat source of protein that are packed with vitamins and minerals, such as omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, vitamin D, and more. These nutrients can help reduce the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, and improve brain function. All this to say, the chances of illness depend on how the seafood is raised, handled, stored, and prepared. Some general tips that may decrease these complications include: 

  • Selecting fresh seafood. Fresh fish should have a mild smell, firm flesh, clear and shiny eyes, and no discoloration. Shellfish shouldn’t be cracked, and the shell should closed when tapped. 
  • Proper storage. Seafood should be placed in the fridge or freezer soon after buying it and used within two days of purchase. 
  • Cooking at the right temperature. It’s generally recommended that seafood is cooked until 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Any shellfish that doesn’t open while cooking should be discarded, as they may not be fresh. 
  • Understanding your risks. Certain vulnerable populations, such as pregnant people, children, older adults, and those with weakened immune systems, are generally advised to reduce consumption of raw or undercooked seafood due to their risk for foodborne illness. 

Until next tide,  

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