Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Can Eating Oysters Make You Sick?

Climate

Food poisoning cases linked to eating oysters and other shellfish from New England waters have jumped from five cases in 2000 to 147 in 2013. A study from the University of New Hampshire links this increase to warming ocean waters.

The culprit is a bacteria called Vibrio. It infects seafood and causes 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is most common when waters are warmer, typically from May to October. Now, as climate change is warming even the typically cool New England coastal seas, the bacteria is spreading.

''In the last 10 or 20 years, it's become very apparent that there is something going on,'' said one of the researchers, Stephen Jones, of the Northeast Center for Vibrio Disease and Ecology at the University of New Hampshire.

Vibriosis can cause vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, fever and chills. A bout typically lasts three days, but those with weakened immune systems or certain medical conditions can experience more serious symptoms.

A separate study published in August in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at 50 years of data from water samples in the North Atlantic. They found a direct correlation between rising water temperatures and increased Vibrio infections in both the U.S. and Europe.

Rita Colwell, one of the study's authors, told National Geographic, "We were able to show a doubling, tripling—in some cases quadrupling—of the Vibrio over that 50-year period."

Flickr/Jeremy Keith

Similar reports have come from Alaska as well.

Vibrio first made its appearance there in 2004, when 62 cruise ship passengers were sickened after eating raw oysters from Prince William Sound. A year later, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that linked the outbreak to increased water temperatures.

The threshold level of danger comes when water reaches 59 degrees Fahrenheit. The study showed that the water temperature at the oyster farm where the infected mollusks were harvested had increased from 1997 to 2004. The temperature exceeded the critical level for the first time in July and August of 2004.

Then, Vibrio began to spread. From Prince William Sound to the Gulf of Alaska and Cook Inlet, over the next nine years 22 marine animals known to eat shellfish—sea otters, a beluga whale and a porpoise—were found to be carrying the bacteria.

The cold waters off Maine and New Hampshire have made Vibrio rare in the region. But, the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99.9 percent of the world's oceans. That has already decimated the lobster industry in Southern New England.

"In the North Atlantic, we are seeing a northern march of whole ecosystems toward the poles as the planet warms: predators, prey, and in the case of Vibrio, the parasites as well, moving with their hosts up the globe," said Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

Vibriosis isn't the only concern coming from warming waters. In recent months, Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island have been forced to close many areas to shellfishing due to numerous toxic algae outbreaks. They have since been reopened.

As winter approaches, colder sea temperatures reduce the risk of Vibrio bacteria. Current sea temperatures along the coast of New England are in the upper 40s to about 50 degrees, according to NOAA data, well below the danger level. Alaskan waters range from 33 degrees in Cook Inlet along the Kenai Peninsula to 45 in Prince William Sound and 46 in the Gulf of Alaska.

The CDC recommends cooking shellfish, washing your hands after contact with raw shellfish and avoiding contaminating cooked foods with raw shellfish or its juices. For those who love raw oysters, though, it may be wise to ask where they came from and check the NOAA coastal water temperatures or another app for that location. Or you can follow this common lore, which states that we should only be eating shellfish, especially oysters, in months with the letter "R."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The CDC has emphasized that washing hands with soap and water is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Guido Mieth / Moment / Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control has emphasized that washing hands with soap and water is one of the most effective measures we can take in preventing the spread of COVID-19. However, millions of Americans in some of the most vulnerable communities face the prospect of having their water shut off during the lockdowns, according to The Guardian.

Read More Show Less
A California newt (Taricha torosa) from Napa County, California, USA. Connor Long / CC BY-SA 3.0

Aerial photos of the Sierra Nevada — the long mountain range stretching down the spine of California — showed rust-colored swathes following the state's record-breaking five-year drought that ended in 2016. The 100 million dead trees were one of the most visible examples of the ecological toll the drought had wrought.

Now, a few years later, we're starting to learn about how smaller, less noticeable species were affected.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Disinfectants and cleaners claiming to sanitize against the novel coronavirus have started to flood the market.
Natthawat / Moment / Getty Images

Disinfectants and cleaners claiming to sanitize against the novel coronavirus have started to flood the market, raising concerns for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which threatened legal recourse against retailers selling unregistered products, according to The New York Times.

Read More Show Less
A customer packs groceries in reusable bags at a NYC supermarket on March 1, 2020. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

The global coronavirus pandemic has thrown our daily routine into disarray. Billions are housebound, social contact is off-limits and an invisible virus makes up look at the outside world with suspicion. No surprise, then, that sustainability and the climate movement aren't exactly a priority for many these days.

Read More Show Less
Ingredients are displayed for the Old School Pinto Beans from the Decolonize Your Diet cookbook by Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel. Melissa Renwick / Toronto Star via Getty Images

By Molly Matthews Multedo

Livestock farming contributes to global warming, so eating less meat can be better for the climate.

Read More Show Less