Shellfish closures spur climate change questions

HARTFORD — In the wake of five reported illnesses, the state agriculture department has shut 22 shellfish beds in Norwalk and Westport and instituted a so far voluntary recall of oysters and clams harvested since July 3.

The culprit is Vibrio parahaemolyticus, naturally occurring bacteria that is generally seen more on the west coast. It does, however, thrive in warmer water, and the underlying question is whether water temperatures this summer are responsible for the outbreak and if they are, whether climate change is poised to make things worse.

“It’s a question that needs to be looked at,” said Kristin Derosia-Banick, an environmental analyst with the department’s bureau of aquaculture. “We just don’t know.”

Last summer, when water temperatures ran warmer than usual due to the unseasonably warm winter before, there was one reported case of Vibrio parahaemolyticus in Connecticut, though an outbreak (more than one case) occurred in Oyster Bay on Long Island’s north shore.

The bacteria is in the same family as cholera, causing diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, headache, fever, and chills that are usually non life-threatening except in those with compromised immune systems.

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