Oyster beds in Duxbury Bay will remain closed until at least the end of the month until testing can ensure there are no more human cases of Virbrio parahaemolyticus, a bacterium outbreak that has caused more than 50 illnesses this summer.

State health officials met with oyster farmers Friday morning to discuss the recent closures of 40 oyster farms in Duxbury, Kingston and Plymouth and sought to answer any questions or concerns the growers may have. Department of Public Health Associate Commissioner Suzanne Condon gave a presentation aimed

at providing a clearer explanation of the process of closing down the oyster beds and the timeline for reopening.

“There were some people at the federal level who suggested I should have taken ac- tion back as early as late July or early August to shut down these areas,” Condon said. “I didn’t think that was fair to the industry and, where obviously protection of public health is our primary objective, we wanted to make sure we were taking action based on abso- lute fact.”

Condon said Massachusetts has had an unusually high number of residents and out of state visitors diagnosed with Vibrio parahaemolyticus, which has been traced back to the consumption of raw oysters, some of which have been tied to oysters harvested in the Duxbury Bay area.

“Between May 24 and Aug. 30, when the closures took place, we had 50 individuals who were diagnosed with Vibrio,” Condon said. “Last year we had 27 cases and the year before that we had 13. The numbers are rising all over the state.”

As the weather and water grew warmer over the summer, more cases of Vibrio surfaced, Condon said. Vibrio is a natu- rally occurring bacteria in the water that flourishes in warm temperatures. Those who ingest oysters with high levels of Vibrio usually get sick within 24 hours, though some cases may take as many as four or five days to become ill. In about 10 percent of cases patients develop a blood disease, but that usually only occurs when there is a pre-existing condition.

“Other cases may occur if someone had a cut on their body and went swimming in waters that had high levels of the Vibrio bacteria in it,” Condon said. “So, it’s not always related to raw oyster consumption, but mostly always.”

Vibrio is a reportable disease in Massachusetts, which means that whenever a doctor has a confirmed diagnosis of the disease, it is mandatory to report it to the state. Confirmations are usually conducted through lab tests when patients come in after falling ill. Af- ter confirmation, patients are interviewed to determine the causes and to link the oysters to either a growing area or restaurant where the oyster may have been mishandled.

“According to the Center for Disease Control, for every person who is confirmed with a lab test, there is more than likely to be 140 cases that didn’t go to the doctor and get such a test,” Condon said. “So when we are talking about 50 cases we are really talking about the likelihood that we have had 7,000 peopel become ill this year."

The Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC) directs the state on what actions to take to protect seafood. With 27 member states, the ISSC has created a Model Ordinance, which is the law that says what states have to do to continue interstate sales of products like oysters. For any state that doesn’t comply, the federal government will intercede.

“We want folks to know we didn’t take this action lightly,” Condon said. “We did everything in our power to see if there were other factors related to people getting sick. We were told by the federal government if we didn’t take action it would result in a nationwide press release saying it was not safe to eat oysters from this area.”

“We want folks to know we didn’t take this action lightly,” Condon said. “We did everything in our power to see if there were other factors related to people getting sick. We were told by the federal government if we didn’t take action it would result in a nationwide press release saying it was not safe to eat oysters from this area.”

The press release would have severely impacted the industry in this area, Condon said, which is why the closure action was taken. Condon also explained their definition of an outbreak: if two or more individuals that are not from the same family receive a confirmed diagnosis that is tied to a single growing area, that is an outbreak.

The three confirmed cases tied to Duxbury’s growing areas included a Massachusetts resident who consumed raw oysters at Sip Wine Bar and Kitchen in Boston on June 28 and became ill on June 29. The second case was an out of state resident, likely a tourist, who consumed oysters on July 22 at the Lineage Restaurant in Brookline and became ill on July 23. The third confirmed case was an out-of-state resident who consumed the oys- ters in St. Paul, Minnesota on July 27 and became ill on July 29. In all three cases, Condon said, the tags on the oysters were tied to Duxbury’s growing areas.

Going forward, health officials must show that for a period of two weeks from the closure, Aug. 30, there are no new human cases of Vibrio tied to this growing area.

“That clock has already started ticking,” Condon said. “We are not doing any widespread notice to the medical community because we feel that if people were not testing before they might start testing.”

Additionally, health officials must also choose three areas plus a control site to conduct testing for three weeks. The testing is likely to begin this week, Condon said. With the fall weather slowly setting in, Condon said Massachusetts growers are lucky because the water temperature will start to decrease and that is one of the things they have to prove in order to re-open the beds.

“As much as I am not happy with all that climate change is bringing, I’m confident the temperatures will go down over the next few weeks and that would satisfy the federal government.”

Alice Sweeney, State Department of Career Services Rapid Response Team, Divi- sion of Career Services director, attended the meeting and informed growers that there are programs in place to assist them financially during the bed closures.

“We are the first responders if there are ever any major layoffs, as well as special circumstances, which this is,” Sweeney said. “We are here to assess with you if there have been any severe impacts financially and we can assist you through grants or other funding.”

After a brief question and answer period, Condon said she would be filling multiple Freedom of Information Act requests as soon as information is available. With testing and monitoring underway, Condon said the beds will likely open by the end of September or beginning of October.

“I am an eternal optimist and I have faith that we will have our oyster beds back up and running as soon as possible,” she said.