Baton Rouge – Oyster harvesting waters in West Karako Bay near St. Bernard Parish that were closed on Dec. 21 are being reopened.

In accordance with standards established by the National Shellfish Sanitation Program, Dr. Jimmy Guidry, state health officer, signed the order that will allow this area to reopen to oyster fishermen on January 12, 2008.

The waters were closed to oyster harvesting in December after several people in Tennessee became ill from a norovirus after consuming oysters harvested from Karako Bay. Health officials with the Louisiana Department of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have not received any other reports of illnesses associated with these oysters.

National Shellfish Sanitation Program guidelines require waters where contaminated oysters were harvested to be closed while the affected oysters undergo “depuration.” This is the natural process where tides and wave action found in shallow waters provides a natural cleansing process for oysters. In cases of norovirus, the guidelines call for a 21 day closure.

Guidelines for Consuming Oysters
Persons with weakened immune systems, including those affected by AIDS, and persons with chronic alcohol abuse, liver, stomach or blood disorders, cancer, diabetes or kidney disease should avoid raw oyster consumption altogether, regardless of where the oysters are harvested.

Proper cooking destroys the virus, eliminating the risk of illness for both healthy people and those with compromised immune systems. FDA advises that it's always best to cook seafood thoroughly to minimize the risk of foodborne illness.

Symptoms of norovirus infection include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping. Affected individuals often experience low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and a general sense of tiredness. Most people show symptoms within 48 hours of exposure to the virus, with the illness lasting one to two days. However, the illness can become serious for the very young, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.

For more information on oyster harvesting areas in Louisiana, please visit the LDH Web site at:http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov/offices/?ID=214.