Health Watch: Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning

Published: Jul. 22, 2020 at 3:49 PM AKDT
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The State Medical Examiner’s Office determined that the death of an individual in Alaska was consistent with Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP), according to a statement from Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services.

The statement outlined the risks when consuming shellfish.

Carol Brady, Shellfish Program Coordinator for the Food Safety and Sanitation Program, explained that shellfish harvested and marketed commercially are safe to consume.

This is because commercial fisheries are required to submit their catch to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for testing, which determines if toxins are present in the shellfish being caught. According to Brady, only one shellfish lot has been required to be discarded this year.

Brady added that bivalve shellfish need to be “sold by a permitted shellfish operator or a retail facility that has received them from a certified shellfish operator. So all shellfish available must be sold at a commercial level.” She specified that non-commercial shellfish are for recreational, personal and subsistence use.

“Commercially available bivalve shellfish, that includes oysters, clams, mussels and whole scallops, must be harvested from waters that have been certified for safety. The certified waters for commercial shellfish harvesting are located in southeast and south central Alaska,” Brady said.

She added that no place has been designated safe for non-commercial shellfish harvesting. The statement from DHSS said, “Anyone consuming non-commercial shellfish does so at his or her own risk.” It also specified that the deceased individual consumed blue mussels and snails collected from a Dutch Harbor beach on July 4, 2020.

Shellfish acquire the toxins they carry from toxic algal blooms, which vary in their presence and levels along the beaches of Alaska. Butter clams and mussels are particularly susceptible to toxicity because of the length of time during which they hold toxins and the speed with which they absorb the toxins, respectively.

“If a person is going to harvest shellfish recreationally for consumption, it’s really important to know the symptoms of PSP,” Brady said. According to her, the symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, tingling or burning sensation in one’s face, neck, arms, legs and toes, shortness of breath, dry mouth, a choking feeling, confused or slurred speech, and a lack of coordination.

If any person who has consumed shellfish experiences these symptoms, medical help should be immediately sought. There is no antidote for PSP, just respiratory and cardiac support until the toxin’s able to purge from the body,” Brady said.

Copyright 2020 KTVF. All rights reserved.

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