ONE OF THE hazards faced by a small but not insignificant number of people living in this seafood-rich region is the occasional unavoidable confrontation with a raw oyster on the half-shell. Most people in our region, it seems, have long since acquired a taste for them, and will wax ecstatic when a trayful of the gray, gelatinous blobs is made available at a party. But for those few who haven't developed this taste, the effort to get just one of the creatures down is a supreme test.

A few, of course, simply decline to make the attempt. But to do that is to suffer the same loss of face that befalls a Japanese who can't bring himself to eat sushi. It is to be seen as somehow lacking in courage, daring and imagination and -- worst of all -- as having a serious deficiency of gusto.

Now, finally, there is an escape for such people, a plausible reason for being excused from the chore of eating oysters. According to a study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, for certain persons to eat raw oysters is to court death. Those who drink heavily, suffer from liver disease, kidney failure or any one of several other problems, or who take drugs that suppress the immune system, are susceptible to an organism sometimes carried in raw oysters that can cause "devastating" blood poisoning. "The incubation period is short, mortality is high, and death may rapidly ensue," according to the study.

So if you can't stand oysters on the half-shell, the next time they're offered, just say, "Oh, I'd love some, but I have a drinking problem, you know -- or perhaps you didn't." Or, "Gee, I could do with a dozen or so of those, but I'm seriously ill, although I may not look it." With that you will not only get yourself off the spot, but will probably become the center of attention for other guests who suddenly see you as a tragic and interesting figure where previously they might have thought of you as nothing more than an oyster-fearing wimp.