New Hamp­shire looks for an­swers be­hind oys­ter out­breaks

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY MICHAEL CASEY

DURHAM, N.H. | For the past 25 years, re­searcher Stephen Jones has tried to un­der­stand the threat that bac­te­ria may pose to oys­ters in New Hamp­shire’s Great Bay es­tu­ary. He of­ten couldn’t get fund­ing to study the prob­lem.

But that is be­gin­ning to change as sci­en­tists no­tice “some­thing is go­ing on.”

Sci­en­tists are rec­og­niz­ing that a wa­ter­borne dis­ease sick­en­ing tens of thou­sands of peo­ple each year is associated with warmer waters of the Gulf of Mex­ico mov­ing north­ward, partly due to cli­mate change. The prob­lem is ex­tremely rare in New Hamp­shire and neigh­bor­ing Maine, but sci­en­tists have seen cases else­where in New Eng­land and ex­pect it to be­come a big­ger prob­lem.

“We have this sit­u­a­tion in the north­ern part of the United States and other cooler cli­mates where peo­ple haven’t thought this had been a prob­lem,” said Mr. Jones, of the North­east Cen­ter for Vib­rio Dis­ease and Ecol­ogy at the Univer­sity of New Hamp­shire. “In the last 10 or 20 years, it’s be­come very ap­par­ent that there is some­thing go­ing on.”

In a pa­per in the sci­ence jour­nal PLOS One, Jones and other sci­en­tists re­ported their find­ings that ill­nesses from vib­rio bac­te­ria have jumped sig­nif­i­cantly in New Eng­land — from five cases in 2000 to 147 in 2013. Dis­ease-caus­ing bac­te­ria can con­tam­i­nate oys­ters, lead­ing to in­fec­tions such as di­ar­rhea, vom­it­ing and ab­dom­i­nal pain.

Mr. Jones and his col­league, Ch­eryl Whistler, con­cluded that warmer waters in the Great Bay, higher salin­ity and the pres­ence of chloro­phyll all con­trib­uted to higher con­cen­tra­tions of one of the more com­mon vib­rio species that makes peo­ple sick — vib­rio para­haemolyti­cus. The re­searchers are hop­ing their find­ings will serve as the foun­da­tion of an early warn­ing sys­tem for the re­gion’s boom­ing oys­ter in­dus­try.

Cur­rently, all ex­perts can do is mon­i­tor the waters and rapidly cool har­vested oys­ter to halt bac­te­ria growth.

“Even­tu­ally, we would want shell­fish man­agers to have ac­cess to these mod­els that would al­low them to com­mu­ni­cate to the grow­ers that con­di­tions have changed and that we now need this to man­age the po­ten­tial risk to re­duce whether there will be ex­po­sures,” Ms. Whistler said.

The bac­te­ria fu­eled by warmer tem­per­a­tures are also a stark re­flec­tion of the im­pact that cli­mate change is hav­ing on the world’s oceans, ex­perts say. An Au­gust re­port in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Academy of Sci­ences found that warm­ing waters were linked to wa­ter­borne food poi­son­ing, es­pe­cially from eat­ing raw oys­ters.

“There is sim­i­lar re­port­ing in Alaska where it has been found that in­creased cases have been oc­cur­ring where it has not been re­ported be­fore be­cause of the tem­per­a­ture rise,” said the study’s lead au­thor, Rita Col­well, of the Univer­sity of Mary­land.

The in­dus­try has wel­comed Mr. Jones and Ms. Whistler’s work, not­ing that out­breaks like the one that oc­curred last month in Mas­sachusetts need to be avoided. Nearly 75 peo­ple were sick­ened.

“When you are in­volved with a re­call be­cause peo­ple have got­ten sick, you are a los­ing tremen­dous amount of money and a tremen­dous amount of cred­i­bil­ity,” said Tom How­ell, pres­i­dent of Spin­ney Creek Shell­fish Inc., in Eliot, Maine, which har­vests oys­ters from the Great Bay. A pre­dic­tive model would al­low the in­dus­try to move more ag­gres­sively to avoid an out­break, he said.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Dr. Ray Konisky guides a barge on Great Bay in New­mar­ket, New Hamp­shire, a sys­tem could alert the shell­fish in­dus­try when a deadly pathogen is in the waters.

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