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Washington warns of shellfish illness outbreak after heat wave

At least 52 people have been sickened with vibriosis in July in Washington, which is caused by eating raw or undercooked shellfish.

SEATTLE — Washington health officials are warning of an outbreak of foodborne illness believed to be connected to the recent Northwest heat wave.

Health officials said 52 cases of vibriosis have already been reported in July, surpassing previous records for the month.

Vibrio bacteria are found naturally in the environment but thrive in warm conditions. Officials believe the record heat and low tides at the end of June led to high levels.

That same heat wave, which experts said was made more likely because of human-caused climate change, is believed to have killed as many as a billion sea creatures.

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People can get vibriosis by eating raw or undercooked shellfish. The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) said symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, headache, fever and chills.

Most people will recover in a few days, though those with compromised immune systems or liver disease are at increased risk of serious illness.

Of the 52 cases, 26 have been from commercial oysters, the DOH said. Four were recreational oysters, and the rest are either unknown or under investigation.

Because of the outbreak, officials are asking people to follow the “Three Cs:”

  • Cook shellfish to 145 degrees for at least 15 seconds
  • Check the DOH's shellfish safety map before gathering
  • Cool shellfish immediately for the trip home, whether gathered or bought