The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) closed a shellfish harvesting area on Tuesday, May 8, 2012 after 14 people became ill with norovirus after eating the oysters at a New Orleans restaurant. No one was hospitalized. The restaurant in question was not named.
“We believe the oysters were tainted before they arrived at the restaurant,” said Ken Pastorick, a DHH spokesman, and that’s why the restaurant named is being withheld. “Our epidemiologists, during their investigation, were able to establish that it was the oysters, not the restaurant.”
The government also ordered a recall of all oysters harvested from that area since April 26, 2012, including “shucked, frozen, breaded, post-harvest processed and oysters for the half shell market.”
The oysters were harvested from Area 23 in Terrebonne parish. The area will be closed for at least three weeks.
Norovirus causes what people commonly call the “stomach flu”. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. Most people recover fully from the illness, but those in high risk groups, including the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, can become seriously ill and require hospitalization.
There have been previous outbreaks from eating undercooked and raw oysters. In fact, the Louisiana Department of Public Health has a pamphlet describing the cluster of norovirus outbreaks in March 2010 associated with raw oyster consumption. Two areas, LA Area 3 and LA Area 13, were closed as a result of those outbreaks.
Cooking kills norovirus, but it is very contagious and easily spread through food, drink, and contact with surfaces. About half of all foodborne illness outbreaks are caused by norovirus.