Oysters may be an aphrodisiac—but shellfish harvested from inlets in Washington are causing anything but romantic encounters at the moment. In response to several reports of norovirus, a stomach bug that causes seriously unpleasant symptoms, the state has issued a recall of oysters and other shellfish harvested from multiple growing areas.
The recall applies to oysters and shellfish harvested since March 15 from the areas, including the three-mile-long Hammersley Inlet, which is farmed by 31 companies. Until the state's health department can determine the cause of virus in the oysters, it says, the inlets will remain closed. The companies that harvest the areas will contact their customers about the recall and any additional details, according to the department.
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Norovirus, while certainly not fun, isn't fatal. Instead, it's an uncomfortable virus that can cause symptoms including vomiting and stomach pain, which can last up to two days, according to the Center for Disease Control. It can spread easily, through contaminated food, surfaces, or physical contact with those infected.
According to Washington's health department, norovirus can get into marine waters through various means: boat discharges, failing septic systems or malfunctioning wastewater treatment plants, or directly from an infected person. As filter feeders, oysters concentrate the virus and infect anyone who eats them raw or undercooked.
This latest oyster infection "underscores the importance of protecting our marine water, especially in areas where shellfish are grown," Rick Porso, director of the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, said in the recall notice.
The notice was not specific about where the norovirus symptoms were reported, saying only that they came "from several areas in Washington and elsewhere." But you can protect yourself from any possible infection by eating only cooked oysters, and following updated recall information on the state's health department website. And if you're worried about any other potentially recalled food, check out our primer on what to do here.