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Norovirus strain identified in oysters from Canada, area businesses unaffected

Only certain types of oysters in the U.S. are affected, but experts say the Coastal Bend does not need to worry.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas —

Consuming raw oysters comes with its own risk, and now there is another reason to be careful.

The Food and Drug Administration identified a norovirus strain from British Columbia, Canada. Only certain types of oysters in the U.S. are affected, but experts said the Coastal Bend does not need to worry. 

“It really shouldn’t be anything that a person individually should be worried about unless they’ve purchased these oysters that have come from Canada," said Terry Palmer, an assistant research scientist at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. "They’re not going to spread from Canadian oysters to our local oysters or anything like that.” 

Richard Lomax owns Water Street Oyster Bar, which serves Gulf oysters from Texas and Louisiana and the east coast oysters from Massachusetts and Virginia. They need constant temperature monitoring. 

“Inside our restaurant, obviously, we’re managing critical control points of temperature throughout the process, and we get daily deliveries,” Lomax said. 

Since the oysters infected with norovirus come from Canada, Lomax said he will not be affected. 

“We don’t have any strains that I’m aware of that have any virus potential right now," Lomax said. "The west coast variety from British Columbia have a norovirus strain breaking out in them. So, no worries here we’ve got nothing but Gulf oysters and east coast oysters.”  

The norovirus is difficult to identify since infected oysters appear the same as healthy ones. Oysters can contract the virus in multiple ways. 

“The norovirus will enter oysters if there’s sewage in the water or if the oysters are harvested and have improper handling," Palmer said. "Especially if these oysters are consumed raw, then the norovirus will not get killed and will make people sick.” 

Experts say the best way to prevent illness from the oysters is to make sure they are fully cooked. Raw oysters are normally safe to eat when handled properly, but there is always a risk. Lomax said if there is cause for concern, he will be the first to know. 

"Texas Parks and Wildlife does their own inspections of our local bays," said Lomax. "So, we would get an alert from Texas Parks and Wildlife immediately if anything like this broke out with our oysters.”  

No oysters in the Coastal Bend have been identified with the norovirus. Experts say constant monitoring will help to keep local businesses ahead of any outbreak.

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