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July 18, 2006 Illness likely linked to eating raw oysters By Bill Kettler For The Tidings Raw oysters are the likely source of a gastrointestinal illness that sickened a Jackson County resident last week. At least 14 other people in Oreg

Illness likely linked to eating raw oysters

Raw oysters are the likely source of a gastrointestinal illness that sickened a Jackson County resident last week.

At least 14 other people in Oregon also have reported symptoms associated with infection caused by Vibrio parahaemolyticus, a bacterium that is found in filter-feeding shellfish such as oysters.

Dr. Paul Cieslak, communicable disease manager in the Oregon Department of Human Services, said most of the sick reported eating raw oysters at restaurants, and one ate oysters that were privately harvested.

About 15 additional cases of apparent Vibrio-related illness were reported in Washington state and British Columbia last week, Cieslak said.

Symptoms of the infection include watery diarrhea, cramps, vomiting and fever. Most cases resolve themselves without treatment within a few days, Cieslak said.

Vibrio parahaemolyticus is a bacterium that lives naturally in many marine environments. It tends to become more concentrated in warm months. Shellfish take in the bacteria as they feed and it can cause illness in humans if the oysters contain large concentrations of bacteria when they are eaten raw. Cooking destroys the bacteria, which has been found in crabs, shrimp, oysters and lobsters.

Cieslak said only three of 15 Oregon cases have been positively confirmed. The Jackson County case is being treated as a “presumptive” case because the symptoms are consistent with Vibrio parahaemolyticus, but laboratory tests have not yet confirmed the bacteria’s presence.

Gary Stevens, Jackson County’s director of environmental health, declined to say where in Jackson County the contaminated oysters had been consumed until the laboratory tests are completed.

Cieslak said occasional outbreaks of Vibrio parahaemolyticus infection are reported every year in the Northwest, and nearly all the victims reported eating raw oysters a day or two before the onset of symptoms.

“The public message we’d like to get out is that uncooked oysters always carry a risk,” he said.

Sickness caused by the Vibrio bacterium is entirely different from paralytic shellfish poisoning, a more serious illness that is sometimes referred to as “red tide.”

Several local restaurants serve raw oysters, including the Bella Union in Jacksonville, McGrath’s Fish House in Medford and the Wild Goose Cafe Bar in Ashland.

Thomas Bates, executive chef at the Bella Union, said he tries to serve all his raw oysters within two days of their arrival to make sure they’re fresh.

John McGrath, owner of the McGrath’s Fish House chain, said staff at his Medford restaurant had been contacted by state health officials who wanted to know where the oysters served at his restaurant had been harvested.

“They told us (the problem) had nothing to do with McGrath’s,” he said. “They just wanted to know where our oysters came from.”

Cieslak said tracing the source of contaminated oysters can be difficult. “Restaurants are required to keep records of where the oysters come from,” he said, “but not which batch was served on which day.”

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