DHH closes St. Bernard oyster harvesting areaApr 6th, 2010 | By Frank McCormack | Category: Top Story
The Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) recently issued a precautionary closure of oyster harvesting Area 3 in eastern St. Bernard Parish. The closure, which affects much of the Biloxi Marsh area, took effect at sunset March 25.
State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry ordered the precautionary closure after receiving word of a possible Norovirus outbreak in New Orleans the weekend of March 20. According to a DHH statement, several people became ill after eating raw oysters harvested from that area. So far, there has been one confirmed case of the Norovirus connected to oysters harvested from Area 3.
Oyster harvesting in the area has stopped while DHH works to determine whether the oysters are to blame for the outbreak.
“If they do determine those oysters from Area 3 caused the illness, it would result in at least a 21 day closure,” said DHH Public Information Officer Ken Pastorick.
If no other cases are confirmed from the area, harvesting could resume after 14 day or April 7.
Norovirus is a virus that causes stomach flu-like symptoms. Effects of the virus usually begin 24 to 48 hours after exposure, with symptoms lasting one to two days. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping. On occasion, other symptoms may include low-grad fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and tiredness.
Norovirus is highly contagious and spreads in a variety of ways. According to the Centers for Disease Control, individuals can contract Norovirus by eating food or drinking liquids contaminated with the virus, by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus then placing their hand in their mouth, or by having direct contact with someone infected with the virus.
Norovirus can be contracted by eating food or drinking liquids contaminated by infected food handlers.
St. Bernard Parish Councilman Fred Everhardt, who represents the eastern portion of the parish, said he is hopeful the oyster harvest area is not to blame for the outbreak.
“I think it’s bad handling after the oysters leave the dock,” Everhardt said. “You can’t blame the reefs. You can’t blame the oystermen. The captains of the boats and the hands eat oysters all day long. I think it’s mishandling once they leave the docks.”
Pastorick said DHH has not yet confirmed the specific source of the virus. One potential is improper disposal of waste by recreational or commercial fishermen, Pastorick said.
The St. Bernard Parish closure is the third in the area in recent days. DHH closed a Plaquemines Parish harvesting area March 24 and recalled all oysters harvested from the area since March 6. That harvesting area is expected to be closed for at least 21 days. Eleven people at a Mississippi seafood conference became ill after eating oysters harvested from Area 7, located on Plaquemines Parish’s Eastbank.
A third closure was issued March 30 for Area 13, which covers portions of lower Jefferson and Lafourche parishes. Thirteen people at a wedding became ill after eating oysters harvested from that area.
Pastorick said this is the first time this decade that three oyster harvesting area closures have been issued at one time. He said the best way to avoid food-borne illnesses such as Norovirus is to avoid raw food.
“When eating any raw product, you have a chance of getting ill,” he said. “The only way to reduce the risk of illness is to fully cook the product.”