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Re: Update on Illnesses Associated with Herring Eggs on Vancouver Island

May 14, 2018

In March 2018 a small cluster of people were confirmed, by lab testing, to have Vibrio cholera bacteria infections associated with consumption of herring eggs harvested in the French Creek and Qualicum Bay areas. Community members were advised to not consume herring eggs harvested from those areas, and further harvesting of herring eggs from those areas was halted for the season. There were no other lab-confirmed cases after these actions were taken.

The investigation of these infections found that the strain of Vibrio cholera identified does not frequently cause illnesses in people, is not the type transmitted by human waste and is not spread between people. When illness associated with this Vibrio cholera strain does occur, it is usually associated with shellfish consumption. Investigations are ongoing to understand the factors that may have contributed to these cases, but at this time it does not appear to be related to a human sewage spill.

While this is the first time this type of Vibrio cholera has been identified in a cluster of infections in B.C., it has appeared intermittently in Pacific coastal waters in the US and Canada. We are working with partners to determine if testing or other factors will help us understand any future risk for seafood contamination.

Traditional foods from the sea are important to many First Nations in B.C. from a cultural and nutritional perspective. We are working with First Nations communities to better understand the impact of this event on traditional food harvests, and share knowledge on how to approach future harvest seasons.

There is always a risk associated with eating raw seafood. Cold storage of seafood at temperatures less than 4°C from time of harvest until consumption and/or cooking is recommended. Where possible thorough cooking of seafood can also decrease the risk of food-borne illness.

Learn more about safe fish and shellfish at www.bccdc.ca/health-info/food-your-health/fish-shellfish and Vibrio infections at https://www.cdc.gov/vibrio/index.html

Find more information on Food Safety for First Nations communities at: www.fnha.ca/wellness/wellness-for-first-nations/environmental-health-and-safety/food-safety.