By Chris Klint and The Associated Press
10:52 AM AKDT, June 9, 2011
State officials say Alaska shellfish are yielding some of the highest levels ever recorded of the toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning, as two men were sent to a Ketchikan hospital with PSP Wednesday and an investigation into a suspected Metlakatla outbreak continues.
According to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, the men in the Ketchikan incident had eaten mussels harvested from Rotary Beach. Baby mussels harvested from the local boat dock had PSP toxin levels estimated at 30,000 parts per million -- hundreds of times greater than the toxic level of 80 parts per million.
“At those levels, a single mussel is enough to kill several people,” said Kate Sullivan with the University of Alaska Southeast, one member of a multi-agency program which tracks harmful algal blooms that spread the PSP toxin. “This is not a typical year by any stretch of the imagination.”
Further testing in Ketchikan by scientists has found PSP toxin levels of 5,000 parts per million in mussels, 2,000 parts per million in butter clams and 1,100 parts per million in cockles. Because butter clams and other shellfish can remain toxic for a long time, scientists have advised against anyone harvesting local shellfish.
Eleven people on Metlakatla’s Annette Island have developed PSP symptoms since May, with five people reporting symptoms last week. One man was hospitalized in intensive care and recovered after eating cockles.
State epidemiologists working in Metlakatla have posted signs warning of PSP at local stores, the post office, popular beaches and boat launches. Police have also made announcements on maritime radio.
Early signs of PSP 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, with death possibly following in as little as two hours.
Paralytic shellfish poisoning is considered a public health emergency. Health care providers should immediately report suspected cases to the Section of Epidemiology at (907) 269-8000 during work hours or (800) 478-0084 after hours.
More information on PSP is available online from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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