Island Health is investigating a potential norovirus outbreak with ties to last weekend’s Clayoquot Oyster Festival in Tofino.
Dr. Charmaine Enns, an Island Health medical health officer, told the Westerly News on Friday afternoon that roughly 30 reports have been received from people who experienced nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea after attending the festival.
“They did not all go to the same events, but they were all involved in one part or another with the weekend event,” Enns said.
“We have interviewed 14 people so far, but we’re aware of at least 30 people who have become ill…We haven’t been able to obtain a lot of stool samples from people who have been sick yet, but we have got one lab report back, within the last hour, and it’s positive for norovirus.”
She said the sole sample isn’t enough for Island Health to confirm a norovirus outbreak, but the symptoms people are describing are “completely consistent” with norovirus.
“I’m not saying the outbreak is norovirus. We’re getting more evidence that’s looking that way, but we do need the investigation to go on further,” she said.
She added at least a dozen reports of illness have come from tourists who attended the festival and returned home.
“We are aware of a party of 12 that was from off the Island that have all gotten ill,” she said.
She added samples from oysters served during the festival have been taken but the results have not come back yet.
“We have not made a link between people’s symptoms and the oysters as the culprit. But, what we do know, is that everyone that we know about who has become ill, has eaten either raw or cooked oysters,” she said. “We’re not saying that this is strictly due to oysters…They are consistently in everybody’s story, but we haven’t proven there is a link there.”
She added consuming oysters comes with risk, but not traditionally during winter months.
“There is an increased risk with raw oysters,” she said. “This isn’t the time of year though that we usually see any concerns with raw oysters so this is a bit unusual.”
Island Health hopes to confirm a cause for the illnesses so the source can be shut down.
“Our responsibility in public health is that we need to investigate; ‘Was there a point source?’ ‘Was there a common exposure that’s making people, or has made people, sick?’” she said. “That’s what we need to investigate to find out what it is and make sure that that possible transmission is stopped.”
Norovirus symptoms—most commonly nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, headaches and general fatigue—take roughly 12-48 hours to show up and are highly contagious.
“It takes a very low dose of the virus to be transmitted onto somebody else…For anyone who does have those symptoms, it’s really important that they know they have to practice strict hygiene, like hand-washing,” Enns said.
“And, if they have those symptoms and they work in the food industry, or they work in healthcare or they work in daycare, it’s really important that they not return to work until 48 hours after their symptoms have stopped because it’s really easy to give whatever you have to somebody else if you haven’t been able to recover sufficiently.”
The Clayoquot Oyster Festival sees roughly 500 hundred oyster fans slurp back around 800 oysters each year. This year marked the event’s 20th anniversary.
Island Health is asking anyone feeling ill after attending the festival to report their symptoms to 250-519-3401.