Public health officials in Alaska are warning residents not to eat non-commercial shellfish after finding record levels of a deadly toxin in baby mussels.
Levels of the toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning were found at 375 times what is considered toxic, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. The measurement came from baby mussels taken on May 25 from a boat dock in Ketchikan.
‚ÄúAt those levels, a single mussel is enough to kill several people,‚ÄĚ Kate Sullivan, of the University of Alaska Southeast, said in a state press release.
At least three people have been hospitalized with PSP symptoms, including two admitted to a Ketchikan hospital on Wednesday, the health department reported. No deaths have been reported, but the state considers the shellfish poisonings to be a public health emergency and is warning that any consumption of non-commercial shellfish, including mussels, butter clams and cockles, is dangerous.
Paralytic shellfish poisoning can cause muscle paralysis. Death can come in two hours as the toxin paralyzes muscles necessary for breathing. Severe cases can only be treated with a mechanical respirator and oxygen.
Poisoning is caused by an algae that is toxic to humans but not to shellfish. The algae is usually present in water but in low concentrations. But during algae blooms, the shellfish gorge on the algae and the toxins accumulate in their flesh. The shellfish eventually flush the toxins from their systems, but that may not occur until long after the algae bloom has passed. What causes the blooms is not known. Alaska advises residents and visitors never to eat non-commercial shellfish.