Norovirus outbreaks linked to oysters sign of water pollution: shellfish group

Marsha Taylor, B.C. Centre for Disease Control epidemiologist, said norovirus contaminates foods

Oysters contaminated with norovirus in British Columbia have become a costly problem and the issue magnifies a broader failure to keep oceans clean, says the provincial shellfish growers association.

Darlene Winterburn, the executive director with the B.C. Shellfish Growers Association, said the latest outbreak this spring will likely take a “significant” toll on the province’s industry that is still trying to absorb $9.1 million in losses from last year.

“It’s significant because a lot of people haven’t recovered from last time, it’s significant because branding is being affected and it’s significant because the uncertainty is making particularly small guys very hesitant to reinvest,” she said.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said 172 people reported getting sick in B.C., Alberta and Ontario in March and April after eating raw oysters. It follows an outbreak that started in November 2016 and sickened 400 Canadians over a five-month period, ending in March 2017.

Norovirus, a gastrointestinal illness, causes diarrhea and vomiting and is easily spread from person to person with symptoms beginning as early as 12 hours after exposure to the virus, the agency said. Most people feel better after a day or two, although those with compromised immune systems can suffer from more severe symptoms.

The latest outbreak led the United States Food and Drug Administration to release a warning this week for consumers and retailers to avoid potentially contaminated oysters from Canada.

The U.S. warning said the raw oysters were harvested in the south and central parts of Baynes Sound, an area between Denman Island and Vancouver Island, and could be distributed in a number of states including Washington, New York, and Massachusetts.

READ MORE: Two B.C. oyster farms closed by norovirus

READ MORE: Reported illnesses from eating raw B.C oysters appear to be dropping

The California Department of Public Health said about 100 people became ill with norovirus after consuming raw B.C. oysters.

The Canadian agency said the number of people reporting illnesses has been on the decline since April 27 and the investigation into the specific source of the contamination is ongoing.

Marsha Taylor, an epidemiologist with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, said norovirus can contaminate various foods and oysters are typically affected when taking in sewage from water.

“(Oysters) filter the water that can be contaminated with norovirus and then they become contaminated with norovirus and then we unfortunately consume them and make ourselves sick that way,” she said.

Sickness can be prevented by cooking oysters for at least 90 seconds at 90 degrees Celsius, Taylor said, adding practising good hygiene, such as hand washing, can help prevent the spread of the virus.

Winterburn said although the specific source of the contamination wasn’t pinpointed in last year’s outbreak, the current investigation is likely to be more conclusive, which can help prevent future incidents.

Farms in the area of Baynes Sound have been closed as a precaution while the investigation is underway, and Winterburn said oysters from other areas of B.C. remain safe for consumption.

“The vast majority of the industry is functioning as normal,” she said, adding that unaffected farms are still seeing a decline in orders because of fears the problem is more widespread.

Winterburn said these incidents point to a broader issue of polluted oceans.

“The oyster is telling us something,” she said. “We need to be very cognizant of what it is we’re putting into our water.”

Sewage treatment practices, the quality of septic systems and illegal dumping from vessels are all areas Winterburn said improvements could be made that would prevent contamination and better preserve the marine environment.

Linda Givetash, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

South Surrey senior says violent bike crash was a ‘blessing in disguise’

Six people stopped to help Dave Rogers after he crashed his bike and broke his collarbone

Mistrial declared in Jamie Bacon murder plot trial

Bacon was on trial for counselling to commit the murder of Person X

Public hearing planned for Campbell Heights development

Project to see the removal of more than 500 trees

City of White Rock tells residents to keep distance from pier project

Residents and tourists are asked to stay at least 100 metres away from barge

White Rock students deliver donation to low-income families

Seniors, kids and more to benefit from Peace Arch Elementary students’ efforts

Police say it’s “impressive” no arrests were made after Raptors celebrations

Toronto will play the Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors next

Semis catch fire at wrecker off Highway 1 in west Abbotsford

Crews called to scene at around 2 p.m., finding up to six semis that had caught fire at the wrecker

Social media giants in hot seat as politicians consider regulations in Ottawa

Committee members will also grill representatives from Facebook, Twitter

Wildfire crews watching for dangerous wind shift in High Level, Alta.

The Chuckegg Creek fire is raging out of control about three kilometres southwest of the town

UN urges Canada to take more vulnerable Mexican migrants from Central America

The request comes as the United States takes a harder line on its Mexican border

B.C. VIEWS: Money-laundering melodrama made for TV

Public inquiry staged to point fingers before 2021 election

Canadian homebuyers escaping high housing costs by moving to secondary cities

In British Columbia, exurbs have grown in the Hope Valley and Kamloops

Feds lay out proposed new rules for voice, video recorders in locomotives

Transport Canada wants to limit use of recorders to if a crew’s actions led to a crash

Most Read