Fourteen people became ill with norovirus after eating Gulf oysters at a New Orleans area restaurant on April 28 and 29, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) announced Tuesday.

As a result, DHH has closed a key harvesting area on the Gulf coast west of the Mississippi River and recalled oysters harvested from those areas since April 26.  The recall includes all shucked, frozen, breaded, post-harvest processed oysters and oysters for the half shell market.

None of the 14 illnesses was life threatening and none required hospitalization. 

oysters-halfplate-406-thumb-240x240-13785.jpgEpidemiologists and sanitarians from DHH traced the outbreak to Louisiana oysters from harvest area 23 consumed at the same restaurant.

The illnesses came on during the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest, annually one of the largest musical events in the U.S., which brings  thousands of visitors to the Crescent City.

Norovirus causes what many call “stomach flu,” or vomiting and diarrhea. Norovirus usually begins 24 to 48 hours after exposure to the fecal organisms. Symptoms usually include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping. 

Sometimes people also have a low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and a general sense of tiredness. The illness is usually brief, with symptoms lasting a day or two. People can get norovirus several ways, including eating foods or drinking liquids that are contaminated by infected food handlers. 

Cooking kills the virus, but outbreaks have occurred from eating undercooked oysters harvested from contaminated waters.

Louisiana State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry and DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein signed the closure order, which took effect at sundown Tuesday, May 8, 2012.  Area 23 harvesting area is expected to be closed for at least 21 days.

DHH has notified local oyster harvesters who work the affected area, as well as the Louisiana Oyster Task Force.