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Vancouver Island officials investigate Vibrio cholera illnesses

Image courtesy of the First Nations Health Authority

The First Nations Health Authority and Island Health are warning the public following confirmed cases of Vibrio cholera infection associated with eating herring eggs.

Island Health it is investigating confirmed cases of cholera contracted by people on Vancouver Island after one confirmed case and two suspected cases were linked to herring eggs.

No new lab-confirmed illnesses related to Vibrio cholera infection have been reported since the public was notified earlier this month, but the investigation regarding the specific type of Vibrio cholera bacteria is ongoing by the British Columbia Center for Disease Control and First Nations communities. This includes the testing of marine water samples, leftover food samples, clinical samples and assessing the handling and distribution of the harvested product.

The Department of Fisheries issued a closure notice to herring egg harvest in the area where illness has been reported.

The health authority is warning people not to eat herring eggs found on kelp, seaweed or other surfaces that have been harvested from the French Creek to Qualicum Bay area.

Vibrio cholera is a bacterium found in water that can cause intestinal illness including the disease cholera.

Symptoms can include mild to severe nausea, vomiting and watery diarrhea that can lead to severe dehydration, but Island Health says most infections are either asymptomatic or only result in mild diarrhea.

Anyone who has eaten herring eggs in the area and has fallen ill should drink small amounts of fluid frequently to stay hydrated and see a doctor, according to Island Health.

Some people don’t get sick and don’t know they have been infected, but the bacteria can be passed from person to person even when no symptoms are present. Health officials say people should always wash their hands well after going to the bathroom or caring for someone who has been ill and before preparing, serving or eating food.

Public health officials ask the public to take the following following  precautions:

  • Do not consume herring eggs harvested from French Creek to Qualicum Bay area from kelp, seaweed or other surfaces.
  • If you are sick, be sure to drink small amounts of fluid frequently and check with your doctor.
  • Let your health care provider know if you have eaten raw or lightly cooked herring eggs within five days of onset of illness or caring for someone who got sick after eating herring eggs.
  • If you have stored herring eggs, call First Nations Health Authority Environmental Public Health Services at 250-924- 6125. Keep them cold and in original packaging so authorities can test samples.
  • Discard any extra stored herring eggs to avoid further illness. Freezing does not kill the bacteria.
  • When handling herring eggs, practice proper handwashing and sanitize dishes and equipment to avoid cross contamination.
  • Ensure other community members who may have received herring eggs are aware of these precautions and actions. If they are sick, tell them to contact their doctor or a health center.

The sanitary shellfish closure exists for bivalves in the French Creek/Qualicum Bay area. Harvesters are reminded to check area closures prior to harvesting bivalves to prevent illness.

This is a unique situation, the Health Authority said. Implications on future harvesting are unclear at this time. Any future advice or recommendations will be made in partnership with First Nations communities.

Learn more about safe fish and shellfish at http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/food-your-health/fish-shellfish and Vibrio cholera infection at www.cdc.gov/cholera/index.html.

Find more information on Food Safety for First Nations communities at:
http://www.fnha.ca/wellness/wellness-for-first-nations/environmental-health-and-safety/food-safety. Call BC HealthLink at 811 for advice on symptoms.

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