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Snohomish Health District sees increase in shellfish infections


Last updated 8/6/2021 at 9:04am

Shellfish such as oysters are turning up with the Vibrio bacteria due to hot temperatures and low tides, causing people who eat them to become ill.

Hot temperatures and low tides are the perfect recipe for a spike in illnesses linked to shellfish.

The Snohomish Health District has received 10 reports of vibriosis since July 1. For the same period last year, only two such reports were received. Vibriosis is an intestinal disease caused by the Vibrio bacteria found in fish and shellfish. Vibrio bacteria multiply rapidly in warm conditions and shellfish concentrate them in their tissues, increasing the likelihood of illness from eating raw or undercooked shellfish.

Most cases reported to the Health District since July 1 involved consumption of raw oysters harvested in Washington. These may have been purchased from a restaurant, store, or shellfish farm, or they may have been recreationally harvested.

Always check the Washington State Department of Health Shellfish Safety Map at ​​ before harvesting shellfish recreationally at any Washington beach. If a beach is open and approved for harvesting, plan to harvest shellfish as the tide goes out. Keep in mind that most shellfish beds around Puget Sound are closed or have restricted access, and there are no open shellfish beds in Snohomish County.

To avoid illness:

• Store shellfish at 41 degrees F or below in a refrigerator or on drained ice.

Wash hands frequently when preparing shellfish, and avoid cross-contamination with other foods by using separate cutting boards and utensils during preparation.

• Shellfish such as oysters should be cooked until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees F for at least 15 seconds.

• In general, when cooking shellfish, remember to discard those that have open shells prior to cooking, then boil or grill the closed shellfish until the shells open and for 3-5 minutes afterward. Avoid eating shellfish that do not open during cooking.

• Eat shellfish shortly after cooking. Refrigerate leftovers immediately.

Symptoms of vibriosis include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, headache, fever, and chills, and may last two to three days. Symptoms usually start between four hours and four days after eating contaminated shellfish.

Seek medical attention if symptoms are severe or if they persist longer than a few days. Foodborne illnesses after eating at a restaurant in Snohomish County can be reported to the Health District by calling 425-339-3503.


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