Officials are warning people not to consume herring eggs found on kelp, seaweed or other surfaces from the French Creek to Qualicum Bay area after cases of cholera were confirmed on Vancouver Island.
According to Island Health, there are three confirmed cases of Vibrio cholerae infection that are associated with eating herring eggs. The bacteria can be found in the aquatic environment and can cause intestinal illness after eating contaminated foods.
Symptoms can include mild to severe nausea, vomiting and very severe, watery diarrhea. Island Health said anyone who has eaten herring eggs in the area and has fallen ill should drink small amounts of fluid frequently to keep hydrated. They should also see a doctor and let the physician know if they have eaten raw or lightly-cooked eggs within five days of onset of illness or caring for someone who became ill after eating herring eggs.
Some people don’t become ill and don’t know if they are infected. The bacteria can be passed from infected people even if they’re not displaying symptoms. The health authority recommends people wash their hands well after going to the bathroom or caring for someone who has been ill.
Anyone who has stored herring eggs is asked to call the First Nations Health Authority Environmental Public Health Services at 250-924- 6125. Samples are being requested for testing and should be kept cold and in original packaging. Extra stored herring eggs can be thrown out to avoid future illness as freezing does not kill the bacteria.
When handling herring eggs, people should practice proper handwashing and sanitize dishes and equipment to avoid cross contaminations, Island Health said.
Island Health is continuing to investigate the cases with the BC Centre for Disease Control and First Nation. The investigation includes testing of marine water samples, leftover food samples, clinical samples and assessing the handling and distribution of the harvested project.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced Friday afternoon that they are closing Pacific Fishery Management Areas 14-1, 14-4, and 14-5 to fishing for herring eggs by handpicking. The closure is based on advice from Island Health. Fisheries and Oceans said Vibrio cholera is an unusual organism not normally found in water in this region or in Canada.
There are also a number of existing sanitary closures for shellfish harvest in these areas and marine water sampling results from March 6 shows elevated fecal coliform levels in this area. Fisheries and Oceans Canada said primary harvest is First Nations food, social and ceremonial harvest, however, recreational harvest could occur as well.