Carvings November 1, 2022

In the news

I love raw oysters but…

            The first human who ate a raw oyster must have been really hungry! Although they are a modern delicacy those who enjoy them probably have had to watch someone else slurp and swallow that slimy, viscous mass, although a good hot sauce really does help. I am one of those who love raw oysters but unfortunately, my background in infectious diseases has put the brakes on that culinary delight.

            To be honest, acquiring a serious infection from raw oysters is pretty uncommon but when it does occur it can be a serious, life-threatening illness. This problem made the news in the aftermath of Ian, the recent hurricane in Florida. An organism called Vibrio vulnificus is common in brackish water and in sewage, especially in summer months, so it’s no surprise that a number of Vibrio infections occurred recently in Florida. Since the hurricane’s exit nearly 30 persons have been diagnosed with the infection and four have died. That is not an inconsequential mortality rate. Some of these persons were infected because they were wading in contaminated floodwaters and had open wounds that provided an easy entry for the Vibrio organism.

            Vibrio vulnificus is the most common cause of death from eating shellfish. Most persons who become infected by eating raw shellfish, especially oysters, suffer little more than gastroenteritis, a nasty inflammation of the stomach that usually causes vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. For persons with a compromised immune system and  those with liver disease the results can be dire. Such persons are at high risk from a bloodstream infection that has a mortality rate of about fifty percent.

            Persons in good health don’t have to worry about eating raw oysters but there is an enlarging population of persons who should probably have their oysters fried or prepared a la Rockefeller. Those who are undergoing cancer treatment or who are infected with HIV are most at risk, as are persons with type 2 diabetes, which now affects more than twelve percent of Americans of all ages and a whopping thirty percent of those over the age of 60.

            If you don’t fit into one of those categories, go ahead and enjoy them. I might even  join you.


            Is your BMI (Body Mass Index) worth measuring? Only if you’re a subject in a study of the demographics of obesity or related matters. The BMI was developed in the middle of the 19th century and it was never intended to apply to individuals, but to populations. Unfortunately, even physicians and nutritionists have fallen under its spell.

            The BMI is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in meters. Those units of measurement, instead of pounds and inches, are a clue to the fact that it was developed by a scientist in Europe – Belgium, to be precise. If you are muscular your BMI will be unrealistically high. If you are not highly muscled, the higher the BMI, the greater the risk of heart disease – but keep in mind that the BMI is not the only predictor of health risk.

            The best measure of fitness vs. fatness is your waist circumference. Anything over 35 inches for women and 40 for men is an indicator of heart disease risk. Those are NOT your targets! Normal for men is about 35 inches and for women 31 inches. That’s because fat around the middle is the best predictor of cardiovascular risk – and that includes both heart attack and stroke.

            Even body fat measurement is not the perfect answer because all fat is not the same. The fat around the hips and thighs – which really makes women unhappy – is not associated with heart disease risk

            I’ll bet that in spite of my disclaimer you probably want to know your BMI, so just Google BMI calculator.

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