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Oregon oysters linked to norovirus outbreak sent to East Coast

Oysters harvested from Yaquina Bay and sold raw to restaurants, retailers and direct to consumers by Oregon Oyster Farms Inc. are being recalled after at least 17 people who ate them recently contracted norovirus.

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Health officials are concerned that consumers, retailers and restaurants may still have the oysters on hand because their sell-by dates range from Feb. 19 through March 8, according to a notice on the Oregon Health Authority website.

An unopened jug of Oregon Oyster Farms oysters collected from a restaurant tested positive for the same strain of norovirus found in stool samples from three of the outbreak victims.

Consumers who bought the recalled oysters from Oregon Oyster Farms Inc. are urged to discard them or return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact the company at 541-265-5078.

In addition to consumer sales at its on-site store in Newport, Oregon Oyster Farms sold the raw, ready-to-eat shucked oysters to restaurants and retailers in Oregon and to wholesalers in New York and Massachusetts.

The recalled raw, ready-to-eat shucked oysters are in half-gallon and one-pint plastic tubs and in 10-ounce plastic jars. The company also recalled its mesh bags containing five dozen in-shell oysters with harvest dates of Feb. 5 through Feb. 15. No other traceability codes were referenced in the recall notice.

“All 17 people, who were among three separate groups totaling 32 people who ate at restaurants throughout Lincoln County, have recovered,” according to a Feb. 24 statement from the Oregon Health Authority.

“One person had been hospitalized. Those who fell ill reported having eaten the oysters between Feb. 12 and Feb. 14.”

Investigators from the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division, Lincoln County Health & Human Services and the Oregon Department of Agriculture, are working with the oyster company to determine the source of the contamination.

Emilio DeBess, state public health veterinarian with the Public Health Division’s Acute and Communicable Disease Prevention Section, said they are trying to confirm whether the contamination was more likely to have occurred in the oyster beds or at some point after harvest.

DeBess said consuming raw oysters is popular, but risky.

“You’re really taking your chances when you don’t cook oysters before you eat them,” he said in a news release.

“There’s risk of not only contracting norovirus, but also more serious infections such as Vibrio, which causes vibriosis. Our recommendation is that people avoid eating oysters or any shellfish unless they’re cooked thoroughly, especially individuals who are immune compromised, elderly, or children.”

Norovirus is the most common cause of outbreaks of foodborne disease in Oregon and the United States, according to the Oregon department. In 24-48 hours after exposure, infected people typically develop vomiting and diarrhea that last a day or two.

The virus is present in the feces of infected persons for a couple of days after symptoms resolve. For this reason, public health officials recommend that during an outbreak, affected persons remain home from school or work for 48 hours after symptoms resolve.

Norovirus is highly contagious, and infected persons have enormous numbers of the virus in their feces. It is spread readily from person to person, and alcohol hand gels do not kill the disease, so hand-washing with soap and water is extremely important.

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