June 10th, 2011
01:01 PM ET

Record levels of deadly toxin found in Alaska shellfish

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.

“At those levels, a single mussel is enough to kill several people,” 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.

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Filed under: Alaska • Food
soundoff (12 Responses)

    were can i buy some of these.. i want to have a dinner and invite some people over..

    June 10, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  2. CSnSC

    Cool, should I bring a bottle of wine ?

    June 10, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Imglad

    Where can I buy the algae?

    June 10, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Imglad

    Besides Alaska.

    June 10, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  5. €Engleberthumperdink¥£

    Could the ja_pan nuclear problem have been partial blame? Stuff travels you know.

    June 10, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vesperfish

      I doubt it, it's probably the same as the red tides we have on the east coast. It's happening right now in Massachusettes.

      June 10, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Ellis

    Any gay guys in Alaska?

    June 10, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Commercial Fish

    How is it that commercial fish do not contain this toxin? Do not commercial fishermen fish in the open ocean? Or are these infected shellfish not commercially available?

    June 10, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Cesar The Chorizo Champ Of Chihuahua

    Another Palin conspiracy.

    June 10, 2011 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. €Engleberthumperdink¥£

    @Cesar Chorizo: You need a nice shell fish dinner from Alaska.

    June 10, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse |
  10. jgirl

    I take it this means claming at clam gulch is out this year :(????

    June 13, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |