Officials warn Northwesterners of shellfish due to contamination with toxin that can paralyze and kill you

Officials warn Northwesterners of shellfish due to contamination with toxin that can paralyze and kill you

Health officials have warned against eating shellfish caught along the cost of the Pacific Northwest due to fears of contamination of a lethal poison that causes paralysis and death.

The Washington Department of Health has detected dangerously high levels of a deadly toxin called paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) in clusters of seafood harvested from the coasts of Washington and Oregon.

Contaminated fish already sickened 20 people in Oregon over Memorial Day Weekend, according to an announcement by the authorities.

PSP is a naturally occurring toxin carried by shellfish and cannot be destroyed by cooking or freezing the catch.

Symptoms can occur within minutes of eating the food and include numbness and tickling in the hands and feet. Over time, it can lead to difficulty breathing, paralysis of muscles and, in worst-case scenarios, death.

To protect residents in the area, beaches and commercial fisheries in the regions of Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor have been closed.

Dani Toepelt, Washington’s Shellfish Licensing and Certification Manager, said: ‘We are working around the clock to notify and collaborate with the affected shellfish growers in Willapa Bay.

‘The industry is doing everything they can to get through this PSP event and protect shellfish consumers from getting sick.’

The contamination off the Washington coast is thought to have spread from an ongoing PSP outbreak that began along Oregon’s Pacific coast, which sickened at least 20 people in May.

No illnesses have been reported as of June 5 in Washington.

Oregon officials encouraged people who had recently harvested shellfish along its coast to discard their catches.

A 2021 study found cases of PSP are on the rise in North America, likely due to warming water temperatures.

Health experts and officials do not know exactly how many cases of PSP have been documented in the United States, but one report from the State of Alaska Epidemiology states there were more than 130 incidents of the condition between 1993 and 2021, the latest year data is available.

And at least five deaths were reported between 1994 and 2020.

PSP is produced by certain types of microscopic algae, which are eaten by shellfish. Those fish then retain the toxin and can pass it on to people who eat them.

The biotoxin affects the nervous system and can lead to muscle paralysis. High levels can lead to death.

Immediate symptoms of PSP poisoning include tingling of the lips and tongue that progresses to the hands and feet. In severe cases, people may have difficulty breathing and the poisoning could be fatal.

Shellfish at risk of contamination include mussels, clams, oysters, scallops and moon snails. Sea cucumbers and crabs can also become toxic.

Under typical circumstances, the toxic algae is present in water but in levels so low that it does not pose a risk to humans.

However, when algae blooms, shellfish consume an increasing amount, causing PSP to build up in the marine wildlife.

As the amount of algae decreases, the shellfish filter out PSP and become safe to consume again.

It could take just several days for PSP levels to drop in shellfish, but experts warn levels may remain at toxic levels for more than several months – and cooking or freezing the fish does not eliminate the biotoxin.

Anyone who eats contaminated shellfish is at risk for poisoning and there is no antidote. The only treatment for severe cases is a ventilator and oxygen therapy until a person recovers on their own.

Washington health officials said they routinely test shellfish sold in restaurants and stores for biotoxins, including PSP.

Overall, marine poisonings are on the rise across the US.

Earlier this year, the CDC warned of a rising number of Americans becoming infected with a deadly flesh-eating bacteria that lurks in seawater and estuaries.

Vibrio vulnificus, which proliferates in warm temperatures, is infecting twice as many East Coasters compared to 2022, new data from the CDC showed.

Scientists also blame rising water temperatures for the increase in the bacteria.

This article by Alexa Lardieri was first published by The Daily Mail on 5 June 2024. Lead Image: Source: Wilson44691 at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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