Oyster Norovirus Outbreak Prompts FDA Warning

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working with Mississippi and Louisiana state health officials to notify consumers, food service operators, and retailers nationwide about an outbreak of norovirus linked to oysters recently harvested from an area near Port Sulphur, Louisiana, known as Area 7. The oysters were sold or distributed nationwide.

The public health agencies are warning consumers not to purchase or eat oysters from the affected area and are warning retailers and food-service operators not to sell or serve them. Louisiana’s Area 7 is in the Gulf of Mexico near the mouth of the Mississippi River. The FDA said it was notified by state authorities that nearly a dozen consumers in Mississippi fell ill with <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/norovirus">norovirus after eating raw oysters from the affected area on March 10. Eleven people reported becoming sick after eating raw oysters at a conference center in Jackson County, Mississippi. Test results by the Mississippi State Department of Health confirmed that the patients were infected with norovirus.

Norovirus can cause nausea, vomiting, stomach cramping, fever, headaches, chills, muscle ache, tiredness, and diarrhea; in general, children experience more vomiting than adults. The norovirus strikes quickly and generally lasts one-to-two days. Sometimes people also develop a low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and a general sense of tiredness. The illness often begins suddenly, and the infected person may feel very sick. There is no cure for the norovirus and patients sometimes need to be given fluids intravenously to combat the dehydration caused by frequent vomiting and diarrhea. Norovirus is not helped with antibiotic treatment.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals recalled oysters harvested from Area 7 on March 6 through March 24, 2010. State health officials closed the area to harvesting on March 24 to protect the public health. Public health officials are currently working to investigate potential sources of pollution that may have caused the area to become contaminated. Consumers uncertain about the origin of oysters in their possession should contact the place of purchase; retailers and food service operators can check the tag or labeling that should accompany all raw molluscan shellfish to verify origin.

Norovirus is not one, but actually a group of viruses that are found in the stool or vomit of infected people. Norovirus spreads easily and quickly with people becoming infected when eating food or drinking liquids contaminated with norovirus; touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus, and then placing their hand in their mouth; or having direct contact with another person infected and showing symptoms, for example, when caring for someone with illness, or sharing foods or eating utensils with someone who is ill. Norovirus can survive for weeks on surfaces at room temperature, can be difficult to eliminate, and can only be killed with chorine bleach. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers and other preparations are not too helpful.

Late last year we wrote that the FDA advised consumers to avoid eating oysters harvested from the San Antonio Bay due to reports of norovirus in some people who had consumed oysters harvested from the Gulf of Texas. About one dozen people were sickened. Just prior, oysters harvested from Mississippi Area 2C were believed linked to about one dozen norovirus illnesses, according to the FDA. Mississippi Area 2C is in the Mississippi Sound portion of the Gulf of Mexico near Pass Christian, Mississippi.

Persons with weakened immune systems, including those affected by AIDS, and persons with chronic alcohol abuse, liver, stomach or blood disorders, cancer, diabetes, or kidney disease should avoid raw oyster consumption altogether, regardless of from where the oysters are harvested.

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