In March 2018 a small cluster of people were confirmed, by lab testing, to have Vibrio cholerae 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 cholerae 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 cholerae 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 cholerae has been identified in a cluster of infections in B.C., it has appeared intermittently in Pacific coastal waters in the U.S. 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 cholerae 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.
The First Nations Health Authority and Island Health would like to confirm that Vibrio cholerae bacteria has been found in both herring eggs and water samples collected in the French Creek area and Qualicum Bay closure areas. There have been no further confirmed cases of Vibrio cholerae infection and there are no changes to the current fishery harvest area closures.
While lab identified Vibrio cholerae infection is rare on the West Coast, viruses and bacteria are a known risk from eating raw seafood. It is unknown if the finding of Vibrio cholerae bacteria in the area will have any implications to future harvesting. FNHA and Island Health is continuing the investigation with First Nations and agency partners. Additional information will be shared when available with all partners and the public.
Please note, for safe disposal of herring eggs harvested from the French Creek and Qualicum Bay areas, it is recommended that frozen herring eggs be disposed of securely in a garbage can until regular garbage pick-up. Do not feed to pets or animals.
March 29 Update
The First Nations Health Authority and Island Health investigation regarding Vibrio cholera bacteria associated with eating herring eggs (eggs laid in the marine environment) is still ongoing.
Harvesters are reminded to check area closures prior to harvesting bivalves to prevent illness.
Please be advised:
• Herring and herring roe (harvested directly from fish) are still considered safe to consume. ⦁ Do not consume herring eggs harvested from 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 center 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 5 days of onset of illness or caring for someone who became ill after eating herring eggs. ⦁ Discard any extra stored herring eggs harvested within French Creek to Qualicum Bay area 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.
Learn more about safe fish and shellfish at http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/food-your-health/fish-shellfish and Vibrio cholerae infection at www.cdc.gov/cholera/index.html.
Find more information on Food Safety for First Nations communities at: http://www.fnha.ca/wellness/wellness-for-first-nations/environmental-health-and-safety/food-safety. Advice on symptoms can also be obtained by calling BC HealthLink at 811.
To date, only herring eggs harvested in the French Creek to Qualicum Bay area have been associated with three confirmed cases of Vibrio cholerae infection. Other people have become ill, and test results are pending. These cases are only associated with herring eggs laid in the marine environment, and not herring roe which is harvested directly from the fish. Potentially contaminated herring eggs laid in the marine environment are likely limited to this area at this time.
PLEASE NOTE: As of 18:00 March 23, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has issued an emergency closure on Herring Egg Harvest in Mid-Vancouver Island. For more information on this closure please contact: Brenda Spence 250-616-0702 Fisheries and Oceans Canada Operations Center and visit: http://notices.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fns-sap/index-eng.cfm?pg=view_notice&DOC_ID=206365&ID=all
First Nations Health and Fisheries Leads,
⦁ Do not consume herring eggs harvested from 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 center 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 5 days of onset of illness or 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, we request that they be in contact with their physician or Health Center.⦁ 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.
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