August 18, 2017

Norovirus Outbreak in Washington Associated with Raw Oysters

King County Public Health is investigation a cluster of “norovirus-like” illnesses associated with eating raw oysters in their area. That virus is found in the stool and vomit of infected people. The virus is very contagious and is spread through contamianted food and person-to-person contact. Consuming raw and undercooked shellfish, especially oysters, increases your chances of getting sick.

Oysters on Plate

On January 19, 2017, Public Health was notified about 4 cases of norovirus-like illness from the same party who eat raw oysters at Taylor Shellfish, located at 124 Republican Street in Seattle on January 4, 2017. The patients got sick about 24 hours after eating the oysters, with symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache, and muscle aches.

Environmental Health Inspectors were sent to the restaurant on January 11, 2017, to review the facility’s process for handling, preparing, and serving the oysters. Oyster tags that identified where the shellfish came from were also collected. The Washington Department of Health conducted traceback and investigated the oyster growing areas.

No issues were identified at the restaurant that could contribute to the illnesses. And the illnesses haven’t been connected to any others that stemmed from the same growing areas.

Norovirus can survive in ocean water for long periods of time. Shellfish are filter feeders; that means they take in the virus if it’s in the water. And oysters concentrate the virus to much higher levels. Sources of the virus include failing septic systems, stormwater runoff, boat sewage waste, and faulty wastewater treatment plants.

Norovirus is more common in the winter months, when people are indoors and in close contact with each other. But the illness can also be caused by contamianted food. The virus is very contagious and spreads easily, not only through food and water, but also person-to-person and through contact with contaminated surfaces.

To prevent the spread of norovirus, always cook shellfish and other seafood before you eat it. Fish should be cooked to 145°F as measured by a food thermometer. Wash cutting boards and counters that are used for shellfish preparation immediately after use, with soap and running water. And wash your hands well with soap and water after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and preparing food.

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