The contamination of bivalve shellfish with norovirus from human fecal sources is recognized as an important human health risk. Standardized quantitative methods for the detection of norovirus in molluscan shellfish are now available, and viral standards are being considered in the European Union and internationally. This 2-year systematic study aimed to investigate the impact of the application of these methods to the monitoring of norovirus contamination in oyster production areas in the United Kingdom. Twenty-four monthly samples of oysters from 39 United Kingdom production areas, chosen to represent a range of potential contamination risk, were tested for norovirus genogroups I and II by using a quantitative real-time reverse transcription (RT)-PCR method. Norovirus was detected in 76.2% (643/844) of samples, with all sites returning at least one positive result. Both prevalences (presence or absence) and norovirus levels varied markedly between sites. However, overall, a marked winter seasonality of contamination by both prevalence and quantity was observed. Correlations were found between norovirus contamination and potential risk indicators, including harvesting area classifications, Escherichia coli scores, and environmental temperatures. A predictive risk score for norovirus contamination was developed by using a combination of these factors. In summary, this study, the largest of its type undertaken to date, provides a systematic analysis of norovirus contamination in commercial oyster production areas in the United Kingdom. The data should assist risk managers to develop control strategies to reduce the risk of human illness resulting from norovirus contamination of bivalve molluscs.
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