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Louisiana closes some oyster beds after 21 people become ill

January 4, 1997

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Several shellfish beds in Louisiana were shut down following reports that at least 21 people in three states got sick after eating raw oysters during the Christmas holidays.

The tainted oysters were traced to Louisiana waters after a rash of people became sick in Alabama, Florida and Louisiana, said Dr. Louis Trachtman of the state Department of Health and Hospitals. The shellfish beds were shut down Friday.

The six Louisiana cases came from people eating raw oysters in New Orleans and its neighboring city of Slidell. Another 12 people in Enterprise, Ala. and three in Florida also became ill after eating raw oysters at Christmas parties. It could not immediately be determined where in Florida the cases were reported.

Health officials have not yet identified the specific virus causing the illness, but said it does not appear to be Vibrio vulnificus, the bacteria which only affects those who have medical conditions _ such as diabetes or liver disease _ that make them susceptible to infections.

By contrast, those people affected in these outbreaks were otherwise healthy people who should have had no trouble eating raw oysters.

The symptoms _ vomiting and diarrhea lasting 24 hours _ appeared between 24 and 48 hours after eating the raw oysters, Trachtman said.

``None of the people were what would generally be called seriously ill,″ Trachtman said. ``They were moderately ill and none was hospitalized.″

Using a state-mandated tagging system on sacks of raw oysters sold, officials were able to identify the lakes and bays where the oysters were harvested between Dec. 15 and Dec. 22. At sunset Friday, those shellfish growing areas were closed to fishing.

The areas affected include Lake Machias, Lake Fortuna, California Bay, Bay Crabe, Black Bay, Bay Gardene, American Bay and Bay LaFourche.

Health officials did not issue a recall of Louisiana oysters because any oysters which would have been affected have already been eaten, Trachtman said. The shelf life of a raw oyster is about two weeks from the time of harvest.

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