Norovirus is a significant global cause of viral gastroenteritis, with raw oyster consumption often linked to such outbreaks due to their filter-feeding in harvest waters. National water quality and depuration/relaying times are often classified using Escherichia coli, a poor proxy for norovirus levels in shellfish. The current norovirus assay is limited to only the digestive tracts of oysters, meaning the total norovirus load of an oyster may differ from reported results. These limitations motivated this work, building upon previous modelling by the authors, and considers the sequestration of norovirus into observed and cryptic (unobservable) compartments within each oyster. Results show that total norovirus levels in shellfish batches exhibit distinct peaks during the early depuration stages, with each peak's magnitude dependent on the proportion of cryptic norovirus. These results are supported by depuration trial data and other studies, where viral levels often exhibit multiphase decays. This work's significant result is that any future norovirus legislation needs to consider not only the harvest site's water classification but also the total viral load present in oysters entering the market. We show that 62 h of depuration should be undertaken before any norovirus testing is conducted on oyster samples, being the time required for cryptic viral loads to have transited into the digestive tracts where they can be detected by current assay, or have exited the oyster.
- mathematical model
- oyster farming