Dr. Paul Hasselback, chief medical officer with Island Health, released a letter to the Regional District of Nanaimo about the possible source of the norovirus. — NEWS file photo

Vancouver Island norovirus may be linked to herring run

Investigation ongoing; cause of contamination unknown

Island Health suspects that the likely source of the norovirus that resulted in shellfish farm closures in Baynes Sound this year was from untreated sewage associated with marine operations during the herring run in March.

That information came from medical officer Dr. Paul Hasselback in a letter responding to a request from the Regional District of Nanaimo for information on recent health concerns regarding the presence of vibrio cholera and norovirus in local seafood products.

An investigation into the norovirus outbreak by the Public Health Agency of Canada, working with provincial public health partners, is ongoing. In an email, the PHAC said the cause of the contamination resulting in the norovirus outbreak has not been identified. The PHAC did not make any connection to marine operations associated with the herring run.

“There are a number of potential risk factors, one of which is the herring fleet in Deep Bay,” said Greg Thomas, executive director of the Herring Conservation and Research Society.

“In pre-season meetings with the herring industry advisors, DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) reviewed the issue of contamination in Baynes Sound and prohibition on sewage discharge nearshore,” said Thomas, adding that the industry will continue to work with government agencies.

In his letter to the RDN, Hasselback said the outbreak was caused by a single genotype that has not been seen in community based illness in British Columbia since 2012, which led to Hasselback to suggest that it was not from a land-based domestic source.

“It appears probably that the event was caused by a single contamination event likely around the time of the herring fishery,” Hasselback explained in his letter. “There is a strong suspicion that the event may be associated with untreated sewerage contamination associated with marine operations.”

The herring run happened last March. Later that month, the presence of vibrio cholera were found in herring eggs samples taken from the area of French Creek and Qualicum Bay, after four people became ill after eating them. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans closed the area for harvesting of herring eggs. Hasselback noted that, while investigations into the presence of vibrio cholera continue, “it is most likely that the organism is naturally occurring in marine waters and unrelated to human sewage.”

RELATED: Norovirus outbreak closes oyster farms off Denman Island, Deep Bay

In April, federal officials closed two shellfish farms due to the outbreak of norovirus. Health authorities have reported about 40 cases of the acute gastrointestinal illness since early March.

Regional District of Nanaimo chair Bill Veenhof at the committee of the whole meeting on May 8, raised concerns about the recent shellfish closures in Baynes Sound due to the norovirus outbreak.

The Electoral Area H director indicated he has nothing against herring fishery but he could not discount the possibility that the source of the virus could be from the dumping of sewage from the herring fleet. Some of the vessels were seen anchored near the shellfish farms.

“The timings of the outbreak compared to the fleet arrival times would suggest a strong linkage,” Veenhof said.

Dumping of raw sewage by vessels is regulated by Transport Canada, said Veenhof, who added that it is an illegal activity. The big problem, Veenhof pointed out, is Transport Canada is unable to fully enforce this law.

Veenhof made a motion that staff look into means of sewage dumping enforcement. The directors endorsed it.

Just Posted

Surrey’s Alex Sangha receives Meritorious Service Medal

Sangha recognized for founding Sher Vancouver, a not-for-profit society for LGBTQ South Asians

Car jumps curb, lands in bush

No injuries reported after White Rock incident

‘Battle of the Brews’ in Surrey this summer, with modern-rock soundtrack

Surrey Fire Fighters Charitable Society to host event as fundraiser for Athletics for Kids

Woman says she was sexually assaulted in Surrey while sleeping in car

RCMP look for suspect in alleged assault that happened Monday afternoon at Surrey’s Tannery Park

Cucumber picker files human rights complaint against Surrey greenhouse

Woman claims she was called a ‘bitch’ and was discriminated against because she’s single and divorced

VIDEO: Morgan Freeman to voice announcements on SkyTrain, buses

TransLink unveils new credit card feature ahead of busy tourist season

Woman’s death near Tofino prompts warning about ‘unpredictable’ ocean

Ann Wittenberg was visiting Tofino for her daughter Victoria Emon’s wedding

B.C. man facing deportation says terror accusation left him traumatized

Othman Hamdan was acquitted of terrorism-related charges by a B.C. Supreme Court judge in September

Will Taylor Swift’s high concert ticket prices stop scalpers?

Move by artist comes as B.C. looks to how to regulate scalpers and bots reselling concert tickets

36 fires sparked May long weekend, most due to lightning: BC Wildfire

As warmer weather nears, chief fire officer Kevin Skrepnek says too soon to forecast summer

Ariana Grande sends message of hope on anniversary of Manchester bombing

Prince William joins survivors and emergency workers for remembrance service

Fraser River “vulnerable” to any additional inflows: River Forecast Centre

Two dairy farms have already been relocated from evacuated areas

Pipeline more important than premiers meeting: Notley

“Canada has to work for all Canadians, that’s why we’re fighting for the pipeline”

Canadian government spending tens of millions on Facebook ads

From January 2016 to March 2018, feds spent more than $24.4 million on Facebook and Instagram ads

Most Read