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Year-Round Screening of Noncommercial and Commercial Oysters for the Presence of Human Pathogenic Viruses

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Consumption of virus-contaminated shellfish has caused numerous outbreaks of gastroenteritis and hepatitis worldwide. In The Netherlands, oysters are cultured and imported both for consumption and export; therefore, the presence of noroviruses, rotaviruses, astroviruses, hepatitis A viruses, and enteroviruses was determined in 64 commercial and noncommercial oyster samples. Oysters were collected monthly for 13 months from four different harvesting areas in the Oosterschelde Delta. Oyster samples were classified by determining Escherichia coli levels according to the standards set by the Councils Directive (91/492/EEC). Two of 36 commercial and 2 of 28 noncommercial oyster samples were B-classified and therefore not ready for consumption. All other oyster samples were A-classified. For the detection of viral RNA, 150 mg of hepatopancreatic tissue was subjected to the Qiagen RNeasy Mini Kit, followed by reverse transcriptase (RT)–PCR and Southern blot hybridization. Enterovirus RNA was detected in 14 of 64 oyster samples, of which 4 were from noncommercial oyster harvesting areas and 10 were from commercial harvesting areas. None of the other human pathogenic viruses were detected. The levels of somatic coliphages and F-specific phages were also determined in all 64 oyster samples, with some samples containing high phage levels (>50 PFU/g of hepatopancreatic tissue), but with most samples containing low phage levels (<50 PFU/g of hepatopancreatic tissue). However, independent of these high or low phage levels, enterovirus RNA could be detected. Thus, commercial oysters can be contaminated with pathogenic viruses, and monitoring only fecal indicators might not sufficiently protect human health.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Microbiological Laboratory for Health Protection, Antonie van Leeuwenhoeklaan 9, P.O. Box 1, 3720 BA Bilthoven, The Netherlands 2: Dutch Institute for Fishery Research (RIVO), Haringkade 1, P.O. Box 68, 1970 AB IJmuiden, the Netherlands

Publication date: September 1, 2005

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