The Washington State Department of Health is recalling oysters and closing harvest areas after a norovirus outbreak. Over the past few weeks reports of illness in people who have eaten raw oysters from several areas in the state have been received.
Small harvest closures and recalls have been ordered over the past few weeks. The largest closed area is in Hammersley Inlet in Mason County. In that area, a recall has been issued for any shellfish harvested there since March 15, 2017.
The three-mile stretch of commercial shellfish growing beds is harvested by 31 shellfish companies and is shipped to many areas around the word. The Department of Health is working with shellfish growers, officials in other states, and local health department to trace all of the product and recall it to make sure it is not available for sale.
Rick Porso, Director of the Office of Environmental Health and Safety said in a statement, “We are actively evaluating all potential pollution sources in the area to determine what is causing the contamination. The area will remain closed until we can assure that public health is protected. This issue underscores the importance of protecting our marine water, especially in areas where shellfish are grown.”
The symptoms of a norovirus infection mimic food poisoning, and include watery diarrhea, stomach pain, and diarrhea. Most people get better on their own within a few days without medical care, but dehydration can hospitalize some patients. The very young, the elderly, and those with chronic health conditions and compromised immune systems can get very sick if they are infected with this virus.
Norovirus is extremely contagious and spreads easily, through contaminated food, contaminated surfaces, and through person-to-person contact. It is found in marine waters through boat discharges, malfunctioning wastewater treatment plants, failing septic systems, or an infected person. Shellfish are filter feeders and can concentrate the virus in their flesh. Then when a person eats a raw oyster, they can get sick.
To prevent the spread of norovirus, cook shellfish, always wash your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom and before preparing food, serving food, and eating. Eat cooked shellfish instead of raw, and stay home from work or school if you are sick.
The Department of Health is responsible for the safety of commercially harvested shellfish in the state. National standards are used to classify all commercial shellfish harvesting areas. If you harvest recreationally, check the Shellfish Safety Map before you head out to find out of any closures or health warnings are posted.