Probable case of PSP is a reminder not to eat recreationally procured shellfish

June 16 2014

JUNEAU – The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) warns Southeast Alaskans not to harvest and eat shellfish in our region.

A probable case of paralytic shellfish poisoning over the weekend has prompted the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Section of Epidemiology, to put out a statement regarding the ever-present risk of paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP, in recreationally-harvested Alaska shellfish.

The current case involves razor and possibly butter clams harvested from Clam Gulch. The patient began experiencing typical symptoms of PSP approximately four hours after ingesting the shellfish.

What is paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP)? Paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP, is a potentially lethal toxin that can lead to fatal respiratory paralysis, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. The toxin comes from algae, which is a food source for clams, mussels, crabs and other shellfish found across Alaska. This toxin can be found in shellfish every month of the year, and butter clams have been known to store the toxin for up to two years. The toxin cannot be seen with the naked eye, and there is no simple test a person can do before they harvest. One of the highest concentrations of PSP in the world was reported in shellfish from Southeast Alaska.

Symptoms of PSP can begin almost immediately, or they can take several hours after eating the affected shellfish before they appear. Early signs of poisoning often include tingling of the lips and tongue. Symptoms may progress to tingling of fingers and toes, then loss of control of arms and legs, followed by difficulty breathing. Death is rare, but can result in as little as two hours and has been reported from the ingestion of just one clam or mussel with the PSP toxin. If you suspect symptoms of PSP, go immediately to a medical facility for treatment.

Are Southeast beaches safe for subsistence or recreational shellfish harvesting? Although PSP episodes in Alaska tend to be seasonal, occurring most often during late spring and summer, off-season occurrences of PSP are most likely caused by retention of toxins from the summer. Department of Health and Social Services stresses that recreationally procured shellfish cannot be considered safe during any month of the year. In an official statement they said, “Any locally harvested shellfish — including clams, mussels, oysters, geoducks and scallops — can contain paralytic shellfish poison. Crabmeat is not known to contain the PSP toxin, but crab guts can contain unsafe levels of toxin and should be discarded. There is no way to tell if a beach is safe for harvesting by looking at it. Toxins can be present in large amounts even if the water looks clear. Also, the toxin can remain in shellfish long after the algae bloom is over. PSP cannot be cooked, cleaned or frozen out of shellfish.” The warning does not apply to commercially grown and harvested shellfish available in grocery stores and restaurants. Commercially grown and harvested shellfish goes through a regular testing program before going to market.

For more information on PSP go to: http://www.epi.hss.state.ak.us/id/dod/psp/default.htm, or
http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/divisions/dfbmd/diseases/marine_toxins/.