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Cape Cod Oysters Sicken 75 People With Norovirus

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Wellfleet's oyster beds have been shut down until further notice

Raw oysters on the half shell Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Rodale

Bad news for oyster lovers in the Northeast: 75 people in Massachusetts have fallen ill with norovirus after eating tainted oysters.

The foodborne illness outbreak was linked to consumption of shellfish from Wellfleet, the Associated Press reports, leading state health officials to shut down the town’s shellfish beds last week. The health department also issued a recall of any Wellfleet oysters harvested since last September, instructing restaurants not to serve them.

State health officials say the illnesses were linked to raw oysters served at weddings and restaurants in the Cape Cod area (proper cooking kills the bacteria that causes norovirus). According to the CDC, norovirus is highly contagious; it causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines and leads to stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, with symptoms typically subsiding in one to two days.

The timing couldn’t have been worse; as Boston.com reports, Wellfleet’s annual oyster festival took place over the weekend. Organizers elected not to serve any raw oysters, instead serving up a bevy of cooked options such as fried oysters.

While a lack of raw local oysters was certainly disappointing for the town’s beloved festival, diners in the Cape Cod area have many other options to get their oysters-on-the-half fix: Other shellfish-producing areas on the Cape such as Provincetown and Pleasant Bay haven’t been affected, meaning there are still plenty of healthy bivalves to go around.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health could not be immediately reached, and a local seafood distributor declined to comment on the situation.

The Cape Cod Wave reports oyster fishing in Wellfleet will be suspended for at least 21 days, noting that this will result in “a huge financial hit” for local fishermen who depend on the oyster beds to make a living.

The past year has been rough for oyster lovers: In 2015, more than a dozen people in Florida died as a result of vibrio poisoning linked to raw oyster consumption. Vibrio bacteria flourishes in warm water and illness from vibrio is generally much more dangerous than norovirus.

The seafood industry on the opposite coast has had its fair share of issues lately, too: After the California Health Department found Dungeness crabs to contain toxic levels of domoic acid last November, the commercial fishing season was delayed, leading to huge losses for fishermen (and a sad lack of product for restaurants). But things are looking much brighter for this year’s Dungeness crab season, set to begin November 15.

Aw Shucks! No Raw Oysters at Wellfleet Oysterfest [Boston.com]
Shellfish Beds Closed After Suspected Norovirus Outbreak [AP]
What Is Vibrio and Is it a Reason to Avoid Raw Oysters? [E]

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