Oysters that Caused Norovirus Outbreaks Linked to Water Pollution

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The provincial shellfish growers association has stated that the oysters contaminated with norovirus in British Columbia are a great economical issue, but they also raise awareness of the main cause: water pollution.

Darlene Winterburn is the executive director with the B.C. Shellfish Growers Association and she said that the province’s industry had a lot to suffer after this spring’s outbreak, unable to absorb the losses from the last year ($9.1 million)

“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.”

Norovirus Outbreaks

The outbreaks started in November 2016, when it made 400 Canadians sick in five months. Then, this March and April, the Public Health Agency of Canada said that 172 people have reported getting sick in B.C., Alberta, and Ontario after eating raw oysters.

Norovirus causes gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea and vomiting, and it spreads from person to person, after 12 hours of being exposed to the virus. Most people get better in a day or two, but the ones with low immune systems have severe symptoms.

The recent outbreak made FDA release a warning to consumers and retailers to not eat oysters from Canada. Almost 100 people from California were diagnosed with norovirus after consuming raw oysters from B.C.

The Source of Contamination

The Canadian agency reported that the number of people sick with norovirus has declined since 27 April and they’re investigating what case the source of contamination.

B.C. Centre for Disease Control epidemiologist, Marsha Taylor, explains how norovirus can affect foods:

“(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.”

Sickness can be avoided if oysters get cooked for a minute and a half in a 90 degrees Celsius water. After handling raw food, people must wash their hands to prevent contaminating work surfaces and spreading the virus.

Baynes Sound farms have been closed until the investigation is finished, while other oyster sources in B.C. are safe to consume. Darlene Winterburn said that “the vast majority of the industry is functioning as normal,” but the unaffected farms have seen a decrease in orders. She also explains the main cause of contamination is pollution:

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

Rex Austin

Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere

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