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Foodborne Pathog Dis. 2007 Fall;4(3):349-58.

An outbreak of norovirus caused by consumption of oysters from geographically dispersed harvest sites, British Columbia, Canada, 2004.

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Canadian Field Epidemiology Program, Public Health Agency of Canada, Ottawa, ON, Canada.



In January 2004, an increase in gastrointestinal illness following oyster consumption was reported in British Columbia. An investigation was initiated to explore the association between norovirus infection and consumption of British Columbia oysters and to identify the source of oyster contamination.


The outbreak investigation included active surveillance for human cases, two cohort studies, trace-back of oysters, and laboratory testing of oysters and human stools.


Enhanced surveillance identified 26 confirmed and 53 clinical cases over 3 months. Oyster consumption was associated with illness in one cohort and suggestive in the other. Oysters were traced to 14 geographically dispersed harvest sites, 18 suppliers, and 45 points of purchase. Norovirus BCCDC03-028 (genotype I.2) was detected in 50% of human specimens. Experimental methods detected norovirus in 12 oyster samples. Sequencing identified mixed clonal patterns in the oysters with one direct sequence match between an oyster sample and the associated human specimen.


The consumption of raw oysters led to norovirus infection. The source of oyster contamination remained unidentified. The geographical dispersion of implicated harvest sites was unusual.


This outbreak is unlike most shellfish outbreaks that can be traced back to a common source and challenges conventional thinking that all oyster-related norovirus outbreaks of are a result of point source contamination.

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