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N Engl J Med. 1986 Mar 13;314(11):678-81.

Widespread outbreaks of clam- and oyster-associated gastroenteritis. Role of Norwalk virus.


Consumption of raw shellfish has long been known to be associated with individual cases and sporadic outbreaks of enteric illness. However, during 1982, outbreaks of gastroenteritis associated with eating raw shellfish reached epidemic proportions in New York State. Between May 1 and December 31, there were 103 well-documented outbreaks in which 1017 persons became ill: 813 cases were related to eating clams, and 204 to eating oysters. The most common symptoms were diarrhea, nausea, abdominal cramps, and vomiting. Incubation periods were generally 24 to 48 hours long, and the duration of illness was 24 to 48 hours. Bacteriologic analyses of stool and shellfish specimens did not reveal a causative agent. Norwalk virus was implicated as the predominant etiologic agent by clinical features of the illness and by seroconversion and the formation of IgM antibody to Norwalk virus in paired serum samples from persons in five (71 percent) of seven outbreaks in which testing was done. In addition, Norwalk virus was identified by radioimmunoassay in clam and oyster specimens from two of the outbreaks. Determining the source of the shellfish was not always possible, but northeastern coastal waters were implicated. The magnitude, persistence, and widespread nature of these outbreaks raise further questions about the safety of consuming raw shellfish.

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