Essential Information on the FDA Alert for Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning in the Pacific Northwest

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is cautioning that shellfish from Oregon and Washington should not be consumed due to potential contamination with toxins causing paralytic shellfish poisoning. State health representatives report that in Oregon alone, at least 31 individuals have fallen ill. This is what you need to know about the agency’s public notice.

What is the gist of the FDA’s advisory?

The warning specifically indicates that people should refrain from eating oysters and bay clams that have been sourced from Netarts and Tillamook bays in northern Oregon since May 28 and shellfish from around Willapa Bay in southern Washington since May 26. These items might carry dangerous amounts of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) toxins, which are produced by certain algae species.

Shellfish collected from these specified zones within the stated timeframe have been distributed across various states including Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, and New York. Restaurants and retailers in these regions have been cautioned by the FDA not to serve or sell these potentially contaminated products.

What has been discovered thus far?

On May 17, heightened toxin concentrations were initially identified in the shellfish along the coast of Oregon, as announced by state fish and wildlife authorities.

Subsequently, an outbreak of paralytic shellfish poisoning has resulted in illness for at least 31 individuals in Oregon, as confirmed by the Oregon Health Authority. In response, the authority is urging those who have gathered or consumed shellfish from Oregon since May 13 to contribute to a survey aimed at assisting in determining the origin of the outbreak and the extent of affected persons.

The entire Oregon coastline has been shut down for the harvesting of mussels, razor clams, and bay clams by Oregon officials. Moreover, agricultural authorities have prohibited commercial oyster harvesting in three bays, inclusive of those identified in the FDA advisory.

Moreover, officials in the adjacent state of Washington have also prohibited shellfish collection along the Pacific coast, including various species such as mussels, clams, scallops, and oysters, as indicated by a shellfish safety map from the Washington State Department of Health.

What exactly is paralytic shellfish poisoning?

Paralytic shellfish poisoning, abbreviated as PSP, is instigated by saxitoxin, a toxin produced organically by algae. Saxitoxin is a neurotoxic substance, capable of inflicting harm on nerve tissue.

Symptoms can manifest swiftly, within 30 to 60 minutes of ingesting shellfish contaminated with high saxitoxin levels, as per Oregon’s health authorities. These symptoms include tingling sensations in the mouth and lips, emesis, diarrhea, dyspnea, and potentially irregular heart rhythms in more dire circumstances.

According to the health agency, there is no known cure for PSP. Management of critical cases might necessitate the use of artificial respiration devices.

Authorities advise that neither cooking nor freezing tainted shellfish eliminates the toxins or renders it consumable.

What’s the root cause here?

A remarkably expansive algal bloom has led to “extraordinarily high” PSP toxin amounts along the coast of Oregon, expressed Matthew Hunter, the shellfish program lead at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, in a briefing.

Consequent to this, some individuals have experienced illness after consuming the afflicted shellfish.

The causes behind harmful algal efflorescences aren’t completely understood; however, a mix of natural conditions and human actions are thought to contribute, as stated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Investigations demonstrate that many types of algae thrive under suitable wind and water circulation conditions,” the agency claims, with their webpage discussing harmful algal proliferations. It suggests that such efflorescences are brought on occasionally by “sluggish water flow, uncommonly elevated water temperatures, and dramatic meteorological phenomena like hurricanes, floods, and drought.” Additionally, the agency indicates the possible contribution of fertilizer nutrients, chiefly phosphorus and nitrogen, into bodies of water, which could escalate algae growth.

How prolonged will this event last?

It was posited by Oregonian officials that the toxin levels could take anywhere from weeks to months, or potentially up to a year to diminish, depending on the shellfish species.

While mussels have the capacity to rapidly accumulate and then purge themselves of the paralytic shellfish poison, this might take from a fortnight to a month, as noted by Hunter. Nonetheless, razor clams, due to their sluggish nature, could necessitate several months to a populace to rid themselves of the toxin, especially considering the currently elevated toxin levels.

Is this a rare occurrence?

Oregon has not detected such heightened levels of paralytic shellfish poison since the state’s shellfish harvesting cessation in 1992, according to Hunter. Nonetheless, he noted that PSP has been present in these waters for an extensive time.

What are the economic repercussions?

The shutdown of harvesting could significantly impact the fisheries of the Pacific Northwest.

The shellfish sector is responsible for generating an annual income of $270 million for the local economy, and it provides jobs for roughly 3,200 workers, as per data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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