Oregon Oysters sicken at least 17 in East Coast Norovirus Outbreak
The Oregon Health Authority announced an ongoing outbreak of norovirus tied to consumption of oysters harvested by Oregon Oyster Farms from Yaquina Bay.
All of the individuals with confirmed outbreak cases were part of one of three different groups that ate at restaurants between February 12 and 14th. Of the 32 total restaurant-goers in the three groups, 17 contracted the highly-infectious virus. All 17 ate oysters during their time at the restaurants.
One person had to be hospitalized due to the severity of their illness.
Tracing an Invisible Culprit
Identifying the source of an outbreak requires an in-depth investigation. These investigations pose a unique challenge: the “bad guys” are invisible to the naked eye. Interviews with outbreak victims are a key component of the investigation: individuals are asked to recount as much as they can recall about what, where, when and with whom they ate over the past few weeks. Receipts from grocery stores are gathered, and customer loyalty cards are used to look at purchase history when receipts are unavailable.
“You’re really taking your chances when you don’t cook oysters before you eat them.” -Emilio DeBess, DMV, Oregon Health Authority Acute and Communicable Disease Prevention Section
In this case, investigators collected unopened jugs of raw oysters from a restaurant where some ill individuals ate before becoming sick. Finding unopened jars or containers of a potential source is important to investigators: if the product inside tests positive for the virus, there is virtually no chance that the contamination came from an outside source.
The jug of oysters from Oregon Oyster Farms, Inc. tested positive for the exact same outbreak strain of norovirus identified in samples collected from three of the outbreak victims. The company reports that it sold oysters to restaurants and retail stores in Oregon, to wholesalers in New York and Massachusetts, and at its on-site store. The widespread distribution of the product combined with the fact that many of the potentially-contaminated oysters have not passed the marked “sell-by” date leaves open the possibility for additional outbreak cases.
Identifying the source just marks the beginning of a complicated inquiry into the outbreak. Public health officials now must ask – and answer – whether the outbreak oysters were contaminated in the oyster beds or at some point after harvesting.
The Oregon Health Authority Public Health Division, Lincoln County Health & Human Services and the Oregon Department of Agriculture are continuing their investigation into the outbreak.
Infected Oysters: Norovirus is bad, but just the beginning
Over the past few years, eating raw oysters has become increasingly popular. Due to the quick rise in popularity, consumers often don’t know raw oysters are a more risky appetizer than other raw seafood. Emilio DeBess, DVM, state public health veterinarian with the Public Health Division’s Acute and Communicable Disease Prevention Section.
“You’re really taking your chances when you don’t cook oysters before you eat them” according to Emilio DeBess, DVM, of the Public Health Division’s Acute and Communicable Disease Prevention Section. He explains that eating raw oysters risks “not only contracting norovirus, but also more serious infections such as Vibrio, which causes vibriosis.”
Norovirus, the illness involved in this outbreak, is one of the most common foodborne diseases in the United States. Symptoms, which typically occur within 24-48 hours of exposure, include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and stomach pain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while fever, headache and body ache occur less frequently, they accompany some cases and strains of norovirus.
Oregon Oyster Farms, Inc., a Newport corporation, announced a voluntary recall in connection with the outbreak. The company is recalling ready-to-eat raw shucked oysters with sell-by dates of February 19th through March 8th that were sold in 10 ounce plastic jars, one-half gallon tubs and one-pint plastic tubs.
The company is also recalling mesh bags with five dozen in-shell oysters marked with harvest dates between February 5th and February 15th.
For information about the Oyster norovirus outbreak or any other food poisoning outbreaks, call the lawyers at Ron Simon & Associates 1-888-335-4901.