State officials are investigating two cases of people who were sickened by apparent paralytic shellfish poisoning from clams harvested in the Sitka area last week.
According to the Department of Health and Social Services’ Alaska Section of Epidemiology, both victims had eaten butter clams harvested Oct. 18.
“After eating two of the clams, the male patient reported tingling in his left hand and lips. He was nauseated and vomited,” officials wrote in a Friday statement on the case. “The female patient had similar symptoms with a headache. Both patients sought care at local emergency departments. Both were treated and released.”
DHSS spokesperson Greg Wilkinson says the shellfish involved were harvested in the vicinity of Starrigavan Creek.
"They put them in the water for a couple days, which people do to rinse the sand and impurities out of them," Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson says a Department of Environmental Conservation analysis of the leftover clams Wednesday confirmed that they tested positive for the toxin that causes PSP. The disease's symptoms range from tingling in the lips and tongue to difficulty breathing and possible death in as quickly as two hours.
While commercially grown shellfish are tested and considered safe, those locally harvested -- a list DHSS says includes clams, mussels, oysters, geoducks and scallops -- may contain PSP toxins. Crab meat is generally safe, but crab guts are suspect and should be thrown away.
Officials say PSP is classified as a public health emergency, with health care providers required to immediately report cases to DHSS. According to Wilkinson, people should keep an eye out for the symptoms whenever they eat locally harvested shellfish.
"Fortunately these people are fine, but this is a cautionary tale to remind people that there are no safe shellfish in Alaska," Wilkinson said.