Public warned not to eat herring eggs harvested from French Creek to Qualicum Bay

Island Health reports vibrio cholerae infection linked to eating herring eggs

Island Health is warning the public not to consume herring eggs that were harvested from French Creek to Qualicum Bay.

There had been a case of people getting sick and treated from eating the herring eggs believed to be contaminated with vibrio cholerae, a bacteria that is rarely seen on Vancouver Island.

Medical health officer Dr. Shannon Waters said the bacteria was discovered after fewer than five people were treated for intestinal infections.

“People that were ill after eating herring eggs had presented to medical treatment and had two cultures done,” said Waters. “And those showed or proved vibrio cholerae bacteria. This isn’t something that has come up on lab reports in the past and the association with herring eggs hasn’t been seen before.”

Waters said those who have become ill after eating herring eggs should seek medical treatment. The illness includes nausea, vomiting, and watery diarrhea. She advised the public not to eat herring eggs that were collected from French Creek to the Qualicum Bay area from kelp, seaweed or other surfaces.

“We have only seen cases from herring egg consumption from French Creek to Qualicum Bay,” said Waters. “Generally speaking this is a First Nations traditional food and this is a traditional harvest that happened in that area. This seems like the source is a one-area issue. So for other communities in other parts of the Island we do not have the same ‘do not consume herring eggs’ advisory going out like we do for the Frenck Creek to Qualicum Bay harvested area.”

An investigation into the vibrio cholerae infection cases is ongoing.

“We are looking into that,” said Waters. “It is a concern. Where is it coming from? We are conducting marine water samples, doing testing on leftover herring eggs, and trying to get any ill patients to submit stool samples.”

Island Health is collaborating with the First Nations Health Authority, BC Centre for Disease Control and First Nations communities in finding the source of the bacteria.

“What we know is our marine environment is a valuable resource for food, travel and recreation, (and) is under a lot of pressure including sewage disposal, boat traffic, rising temperatures and this is certainly a sign that our health is connected to it,” said Waters.

Some people don’t become ill and don’t know they have been infected, Island Health reported. Health authorities are asking people to take the following precautions and actions:

• Do not consume herring eggs harvested from the French Creek to Qualicum Bay area from kelp, seaweed or other surfaces.

• If you are ill, ensure you are drinking small amounts of fluid frequently to keep hydrated. Visit your physician or health centre to ensure treatment and confirmation of the cause of illness. Let your health-care provider know if you have eaten raw or lightly-cooked herring eggs within five days of onset of illness or are caring for someone who became ill after eating herring eggs.

• The bacteria can be passed from person to person, even if you don’t have symptoms. Always wash your hands well after going to the bathroom or caring for someone who has been ill.

• If you have stored herring eggs, please call First Nations Health Authority Environmental Public Health Services at 250-924- 6125. Samples are being requested for testing (keep cold and in original packaging).

• Discard any extra stored herring eggs to avoid further illness. Freezing does not kill the bacteria.

• When handling herring eggs, practice proper handwashing and sanitize dishes and equipment to avoid cross contamination.

• Ensure other community members who may have received herring eggs are aware of these precautions and actions. If they are ill, Island Health requests that they be in contact with their physician or health centre.

• A sanitary shellfish closure exists for bivalves in the French Creek/Qualicum Bay area. Harvesters are reminded to check area closures prior to harvesting bivalves to prevent illness.

Learn more about safe fish and shellfish at www.bccdc.ca/health-info/food-your-health/fish-shellfish and vibrio cholerae infection at www.cdc.gov/cholera/index.html.

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