Raw oysters from New Orleans are blamed in the death of former North Dakota lawmaker

Rae Ann Kelsch was 58.
Rae Ann Kelsch was 58.

A longtime North Dakota state lawmaker has died after contracting a bacterial infection, believed to be from eating raw oysters on a weekend trip to New Orleans.

Rae Ann Kelsch passed away Tuesday morning at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, according to a medical journal kept by her relatives on She was 58.

Kelsch became sick on Friday, her condition worsened Saturday, and by Monday she had gone into septic shock, according to entries in her journal. She died of a Vibrio vulnificus bacterial infection, which is commonly linked to eating undercooked shellfish, according to the Bismarck Tribune.

Current and former lawmakers in her home state remembered Kelsch’s passion for education, the newspaper reported.

“She was born for public policy,” state Sen. Dwight Cook told the Tribune.

Rae Ann was a passionate advocate for her constituents and clients, a dedicated public servant and family woman, and a fierce champion for education and many other causes,” North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum wrote on his Facebook page. “Those who knew and worked with Rae Ann will remember her boundless energy, joyful laugh and enthusiasm for life that touched the lives of everyone around her.”

Kelsch was a registered lobbyist at the time of her death, according to WDSU. The Louisiana Department of Health released the following statement to the station:

“The Department of Health was made aware of this unfortunate situation,” We have reached out to the family and we have begun our formal investigation. Investigations such as these are confidential but we will alert the media and the public if necessary for public safety and awareness.”

The restaurant at which Kelsch is believed to have contracted the virus has not been identified by authorities.

Kelsch, a resident of Mandan, just west of Bismarck, was first elected to the North Dakota House of Representatives in 1991, according to her bio on the North Dakota legislature website.

She was defeated in a 2012 re-election bid in the primaries, “after it came to light that she didn’t file state income tax returns for seven years,” according to The Associated Press. She is survived by her husband, Thomas, and their three children.

Hurricane floodwater often harbors harmful bacteria, most notably Vibrio vulnificus. If contracted, it can lead to serious infection or death.