Massachusetts’ thriving oyster industry is being hit hard by a medical riddle, after a string of unexpected food poisonings forced the state to shut down its beds for the first time ever.

The perpetrator is the Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacterium — a microbe in the same family as cholera — that causes abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills, although it is rarely fatal. Symptoms usually appear within 24 hours after eating poorly cooked or uncooked shellfish.

Although Vibrio has been around Massachusetts since the 1960s, fishermen have been shocked by the current outbreak. The bacterium is typically a problem during the summer in the Northeast, as the temperature rises in the waters near the shore where the oyster beds are located. However, 50 confirmed cases have been made in Massachusetts in 2013, which is nearly double last year’s total of 27.

"Honestly, I'm confused by the whole thing," Don Merry, an oyster grower from Duxbury, told the Associated Press.

Martha’s Vineyard has recalled its oysters after two cases popped up on the scenic island. Other states along the east coast are issuing similar recalls, including New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

Public health officials are puzzled, however, because the water temperatures have not approached 81°F, which is Vibrio’s optimal condition. Proper refrigeration can kill the germ, so is it possible that a mechanical malfunction or negligence is to blame? Some scientists fear that a temperature-insensitive form of the germ has been carried from overseas by visiting ships.

However, climate change has also been implicated with a boost of Vibrio cases in Seattle, as water temperatures have risen along the Pacific Northwest coastline. Oysters from this area are typically dredged from deeper, colder parts of the ocean, which makes incidents of Vibrio very rare in this part of the country.

While scientists try to find an answer, Massachusetts’ oyster industry — $12 billion — is floundering, with some fisherman reporting daily loses of $6,000. The Vibrio outbreak should dissipate as autumn and winter cool the water, although this realization offers little comfort to some oyster growers.

"Quite honestly, the worst thing, is when we get back and rolling, is anybody going to want to eat a Duxbury oyster?" Merry told the Associated Press. "It's hard to quantify how much this has hurt us."