This story is over 5 years old.


Herpes Is Killing Nature's Most Popular Aphrodisiac

Love the lusty powers of raw oysters? Soon, they might be harder to come by. World oyster populations are in trouble—and it's all because of a nasty strain of the herpes virus.
Photo via Flickr user Jennifer Durban

No matter whether you're coming home from a night in "da club" or a candlelit dinner, it's always of important to practice safe sex—lest you end up with an undesirable affliction. It can be easy to give into temptation when you're all hopped up on the sensuous powers of edible (and drinkable) aphrodisiacs. A bottle of champagne, a dozen oysters, and a chocolate mousse for two can steer the direction of your night towards the scandalous. Unless you have to omit the oysters, because they've all died of oyster herpes.


Today, Bloomberg reports that in the past six years, more than a quarter of France's oyster population has been lost due to a rampant strain of oyster herpes known as Os-HV1. This virus isn't like the one we think of in our own kin—while the best-known human varieties cause pesky but largely harmless cold sores (and … other embarrassing sores), the type knocking out oysters is largely fatal to them (though benign to us). In Australia's South Wales, the same type of herpes once killed a staggering 10 million oysters in a span of just three days.

READ: The Fate of Mankind's Libido Depends on the Health of Oysters

The global oyster industry is valued at some $4.1 billion, so there are major profits to be lost in the face of the virus, which many researchers think has been aggravated by warming water temperatures caused by climate change. Oyster herpes really kicks into high gear when the water temperature rises above 60 degrees Fahrenheit—which is becoming more and more common in oceans globally.

Scientists at the University of Tasmania are racing against and studying the destructive path of the virus by monitoring oysters with heart rate monitors affixed to them with dental gum. Researchers are hoping that the oysters will provide some sort of indication or physiological change if they are exposed to or contract the virus, which could help farmers develop a system for removing afflicted oysters from their populations. The team of scientists is also observing another set of oysters' reaction to fluctuations in light and temperature in hopes of finding ways to temper—and better protect them—from the herpes crisis.

Oyster to oyster, the virus doesn't travel through sexual contact; unsurprisingly, oysters don't exactly get down and dirty the way that vertebrates tend to. It's believed that the virus is spread by attaching itself to plankton particles, which then make their way into oysters' shells and food supply.

Os-HV1 is also known as Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome, and is not a new problem—just one that has seen major increases in the past few years. In 2008, the virus apparently mutated and "[turned] it from being an occasional nuisance to a killer," University of Sydney professor Richard Whittington tells Bloomberg. Since then, its path of doom has spiraled out of control, particularly in Europe and Australia. In the past six years, prices for French oysters have soared by more than 36 percent as harvest sizes have dropped. In New Zealand, oyster production has fallen by a panic-inducing 60 percent.

Global warming's new victims now include your favorite edible aphrodisiac. It's too bad that oysters are best served ocean-fresh; otherwise, we'd suggest you stock up now.