Public health officials in Seattle and King County are investigating multiple reports of a norovirus-like illness in people who ate raw oysters. Since January, officials have received reports that as many as 39 people were sickened after eating that shellfish. Illnesses have been reported during the time period ranging from January 10 through March 20, 2017.
Public health has reported the illnesses to the Washington State Department of Health Shellfish Program, which tracks the reports and harvest locations of the oysters implicated in this outbreak. The oysters were all harvested from different growing areas and bays in Washington state with the exception of four meals. Those four meals, which account for 22 of the illnesses, were made of oysters harvested from a small bay in the Samish Bay growing area.
Onsite investigations were conducted by public health inspectors at each retail facility where the oysters were purchased or eaten. No factors that contribute to the spread of norovirus were observed at any of these locations, and no ill food workers were found at any of the establishments. That’s why Public Health believes the most likely cause of these illnesses is raw oysters.
A list of the establishments can be seen at the King County web site. Most people, 15, got sick at a private party where oysters from Taylor Shellfish were served.
Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that causes diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, body aches, fever, and headache. This illness can cause serious dehydration, especially in the elderly, children, and anyone with a chronic illness or compromised immune system. Officials do not have laboratory confirmation for any of these cases, but the symptoms suggest norovirus.
To prevent a norovirus infection, always cook shellfish before eating it. Steaming oysters or cooking them just until the shells open is not enough to kill the virus. Norovirus can survive cooking temperatures up to 140°F. Always wash your hands, cutting boards, and counters used in shellfish preparation with soap and hot water immediately after use to avoid cross-contamiantion. And wash your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom or changing diapers, and before preparing or serving food to others and before eating.
If you do get sick, stay home from work or school. Wait at least 48 hours after the last episode of vomiting or diarrhea before preparing any food for other people.