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Illness prompts closures of additional oyster harvesting areas
Seattle Times staff reporter
State health officials have closed additional oyster-growing areas to commercial harvesting for raw consumption after the number of shellfish lovers sickened by local oysters rose to 63, the most in recent memory.
The culprit is the naturally occurring bacteria Vibrio parahaemolyticus, said Nancy Napolilli, director of the Department of Health's Office of Food Safety and Shellfish. The recent heat wave and extremely low tides have combined to create an ideal environment for bacteria to multiply.
Washington typically sees about 20 reported cases of vibriosis each year. This year's outbreak surpasses the 58 reported cases in 1997. Napolilli said she was unaware of a larger outbreak before then.
The state closed some oyster-growing areas last — including the Totten and Eld inlets near Olympia and a portion of Hood Canal. On Tuesday, the state expanded the closures to include a much larger area of Hood Canal from Sunset Beach in the eastern arm of the lower Canal to Point Whitney in the north, with the exception of Annas Bay.
The restrictions will remain in place until the state gets two consecutive samples from affected areas at least four days apart with no trace of the virulent strain of the bacteria, she said.
Napolilli urged oyster lovers to avoid eating raw oysters and instead cook them to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees to kill the bacteria.
For more information, call the state's marine biotoxin hotline at (800) 562-5632, visit the Web site at www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/sf/biotoxin.htm and check for signs at beaches and marinas before harvesting.
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