Deadly Levels of Toxin Found in Shellfish from Southeast Alaska Beaches
The State Dept. of Health and Social Services is posting signs around those beaches warning people about the potential dangers of paralytic shellfish poisoning.
Two men are recovering in a local Ketchikan hospital after eating mussels harvested from Rotary Beach. Doctors say they had symptoms consistent with paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP. Since May 25, there have been a total of 13 “probable” cases of PSP around Ketchikan and Metlakatla.
Marine scientists found record-breaking amounts of toxins in Ketchikan. The Department of Health and Social Services reported baby mussels in Ketchikan with toxin levels estimated at more than 30,000 micrograms per hundred grams of shellfish meat. The standard toxic levels in shellfish are anything more than 80 micrograms of toxin per hundred grams of shellfish meat.
The toxins are typically found south of 60 degrees north latitude, but PSP is still unpredictable.
“It’s very difficult to predict where the algae blooms are going to occur,” said Dr. Paul Anderson, epidemiologist with the Department of Health and Social Services.
Despite the fact state health officials remind Alaskans every year about the dangers of harvesting their own shellfish, it’s no secret that people still dig for their own shellfish like clams, cockles and mussels.
State health officials believe the levels of PSP could put people’s lives at risk.
“They can’t tell by looking, they can’t tell by tasting, they can’t tell smelling, or even necessarily looking at the water whether or not there has been an event that has caused PSP,” Dr. Anderson said.
“This is a very important part of a way of life for many Alaskans, and it’s an unfortunate situation for them that this bloom occurs at certain times of the year,” he said.
State health officials are posting signs around the beaches in Ketchikan and Metlakatla to warn people about the deadly toxin levels in area waters.
However, Dr. Anderson said it is very difficult to paint an accurate picture on how many people have actually been infected with PSP.
“One of the most difficult things about PSP events, generally they are under-reported, that is, the number of people that have symptoms is smaller than people who have symptoms and don't report those symptoms,” he said.
As the PSP investigation continues, health officials said one thing remains clear, especially in the Southeast: Alaskans should think twice before digging their own shellfish rather than buying them at the store.
PSP can infect people within hours or even minutes after eating infected shellfish.
Symptoms include, but are not limited to: tingling around the mouth and fingertips, nausea, vomiting and cardiovascular failure.
If you feel strange after eating shellfish, go to the emergency room immediately.
Epidemiologists said the only way for the state to know what areas have high toxin levels, is for people to report their symptoms and cases. Contact them at 907-269-8000.