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

‘Why not Abbotsford’: Mayor working to see pro hockey return to city

Henry Braun says he has tried continuously to bring a team back to the Abbotsford Centre

Man airlifted to hospital following mushroom farm stabbing

Abbotsford Police speaking with two men from the scene

Motorcyclist slides under dump truck

Bike operator lucky to survive collision at Aldergrove intersection

Two men arrested after wire theft complaint

Mission RCMP locate suspects, cut wire and associated tools

Cruising the Valley and outfitting a ride for Doug

This year’s fundraiser about finding and converting a vehicle for charity ride namesake Doug Penner.

VIDEO, PHOTOS: Motorcycle racing in Mission

Westwood Motorcycle Racing Club kicked off its 2018 season at Mission Raceway Park

Study recommends jurors receive more financial and psychological support

Federal justice committee calls for 11 policy changes to mitigate juror stress

Surrey RCMP issue warning after third sexual assault since Sunday

It is the third sexual assault reported this week in Surrey

Research needed on impact of microplastics on B.C. shellfish industry: study

SFU’s department of biological sciences recommends deeper look into shellfish ingesting microbeads

B.C. dad pens letter urging overhaul of youth health laws after son’s fatal overdose

The Infants Act currently states children under 19 years old may consent to medical treatment on own

Singh sides with B.C. in hornet’s nest of pipeline politics for the NDP

Singh had called for a more thorough environmental review process on the proposal

VIDEO: Campers leave big mess at rural Vancouver Island campsite

Vehicle parts, garbage, a mattress, lawn chairs, beer cans, and even fecal matter left in the area

VIDEO: B.C. woman gets up-close view of Royal wedding

Kelly Samra won a trip back to her home country to see Prince Harry and Meghan Markle say ‘I do’

30 C in B.C., 30 cm of snow expected for eastern Canada

It might be hot in B.C., but the rest of Canada still dealing with cold

Most Read