Norovirus Illness Linked to Texas Gulf Oysters
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is advising consumers to avoid eating oysters harvested from the San Antonio Bay, located on the Gulf of Texas, on or after Nov. 16 due to reports of norovirus-associated illnesses.
The Texas Department of Health Services closed the oyster beds on November 26th and has ordered a recall of all oysters harvested from this area between November 16 and November 25th. The beds remain closed to commercial oyster harvesting while officials investigate how the oysters were contaminated.
The FDA, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the states of North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas, are investigating about a dozen reports of norovirus-related illnesses from consumers who ate oysters recently harvested from the San Antonio Bay.
Noroviruses (formerly called the Norwalk virus) are a group of viruses that cause gastroenteritis. Symptoms of illness include low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping within 48 hours of exposure to the virus. The virus is highly contagious, so one can become ill by touching surfaces contaminated with the organism or by coming in direct contact with an infected individual. Norovirus is not typically life-threatening and usually lasts one to two days.
Consumers eating oyster products are encouraged to look on the label for the date and place of harvest and dispose of them if they are involved in the recall. At restaurants, consumers can ask the wait staff regarding the source of oysters offered on the menu. Restaurant operators and retailers who are unsure of the source of oysters on hand should check with their suppliers to determine where the oysters were harvested. No other seafood is affected by this advisory.
Several weeks ago, the FDA announced its intent to change its policy regarding the post-harvest processing of raw Gulf Coast oysters harvested in warmer months. The intent of the policy is to reduce the number of Americans who suffer from another contaminant of oysters – Vibrio vulnificus – which is found in higher concentrations during the summer months. This bacteria causes an extremely dangerous infection, resulting in loss of skin, kidney failure, amputations, excrutiating pain, and possibly death.
Vibrio vulnificus bacteria is not a result of pollution and adequate cooking can kill the organism. Noroviruses can also be killed by cooking, but are likely the result of a contaminated water supply.