The Bellingham Herald reports that high levels of bacteria in raw oysters from south Puget Sound and Hood Canal have been making people ill across Washington and in other states.
About 50 people in Washington and dozens elsewhere have become sick, said Donn Moyer, media relations manager for the state Department of Health. At least two people have become sick enough to be hospitalized.
The bacteria, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, are present in Northwest marine waters all year, but levels are higher during warmer weather. Eating raw shellfish that contain high levels of the bacteria can cause explosive diarrhea and stomach cramps in humans.
The outbreak of illness has been traced to oysters from Hood Canal, between the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas, and Eld and Totten inlets, northeast of Olympia.
Shellfish from those areas is harvested recreationally and commercially and distributed widely, Moyer said.
Levels of the bacteria are still within levels deemed acceptable by the Food and Drug Administration, but they still are high enough to make people sick, Moyer said.
Moyer said avoiding raw shellfish in the summer probably is a better defense than avoiding shellfish from areas that are known to contain high levels of bacteria.
“If you get them someplace else, it’s that buyer-beware thing,” he said. “In the summer it’s a risk. It doesn’t mean stay away from oysters. The bacteria can easily be killed by cooking oysters to 145 degrees.”