Raw Mexican oysters now linked to stomach illnesses in 5 states, CDC warns

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The FDA has a few tips for buying seafood and making sure it's safe to eat. Fish and shellfish can be dangerous and lead to deadly illness if they're not prepared properly.
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The FDA has a few tips for buying seafood and making sure it's safe to eat. Fish and shellfish can be dangerous and lead to deadly illness if they're not prepared properly.

An outbreak of stomach illnesses across five states has been linked to raw oysters from a specific region of Mexico, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials said in a food safety alert Friday that “CDC and public health and regulatory officials in several states are investigating a multistate outbreak of gastrointestinal illnesses linked to raw oysters harvested from Estero El Cardon estuary in Baja California Sur, Mexico.”

Reported cases of gastrointestinal illness are spread widely across the country, with 12 in California and one each in Alaska, Nevada, New Hampshire and Illinois, a CDC map shows. That’s a total of 16 cases, with two hospitalizations and no deaths reported.

One distributor of the oysters in Wilmington, California, issued a voluntary recall of the shellfish earlier this month, according to the CDC. The health agency said that “Estero El Cardon was closed to further oyster harvesting” on May 7.

The nationwide warning comes just days after California’s own public health department alerted the public to cases of oyster-linked gastrointestinal illnesses in the state, as McClatchy reported.

Health officials said 12 people reported stomach illnesses after eating the raw shellfish from retailers or restaurants in Los Angeles, Orange, Santa Barbara and San Diego counties. Cases were reported in February, March and April.

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“If you do eat shellfish, cook it until it reaches an internal temperature of at least 145°F,” California health officials said. “Quick steaming isn’t sufficient to prevent gastrointestinal illness from these pathogens.”

Though the reports of the outbreak were limited to Southern California earlier this week, health officials warned that “the raw oysters have been distributed throughout the state.”

Tests were done in eight of the 12 reported California cases, which revealed a handful of pathogens including “Vibrio parahaemolyticus (3), Vibrio albensis (1), Vibrio species unidentified (1), Shigella flexneri serotype 1 (2), and norovirus (1),” health officials said. Vibrio parahaemolyticus “typically causes non-bloody diarrhea,” while shigella can cause bloody diarrhea, cramping and stomach pain, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

California officials said that “one of the Vibrio parahaemolyticus cases was co-infected with non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli,” which has similar gastrointestinal symptoms to the other pathogens identified, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Symptoms usually crop up one to four days after eating the infected shellfish, and include stomach pain or cramping, nausea, diarrhea, fever and vomiting, according to the CDC. Most get better without treatment after up to a week of symptoms, the CDC said.

Health officials in California said they were working with local officials to stay on top of the reported cases — and with Mexican officials to tackle the source of the outbreak.

“Restaurants and retailers can protect customers by checking their inventory and shellfish tags that are required to identify the source to avoid any raw oysters harvested from Estero El Cardon in Baja California Sur, Mexico,” California health officials said. “This will ensure that potentially contaminated raw oysters are not available for purchase, and any leftover contaminated products are discarded.”

Diners can also take matters into their own hands.

“Consumers should ask the retailer or restaurant about the source if the product is not labeled or identified,” health officials said.

Material in this story appeared in an earlier story by the author

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