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Understanding Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning: FDA Alert and Affected Cases

As summer officially approaches, federal officials are cautioning Americans to exercise additional care when consuming oysters and clams to steer clear of a potentially lethal illness known as paralytic shellfish poisoning.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued an advisory, alerting both restaurants and consumers about heightened levels of biotoxins affecting shellfish along the shores of Oregon and Washington. Oregon authorities have responded with widespread closures to safeguard the public, noting that at least 21 individuals have fallen ill.

State officials first detected elevated levels of naturally occurring toxins causing paralytic shellfish poisoning in shellfish along the Oregon coast on May 17. Consequently, the entire coastline has been closed to recreational shellfish harvesting, with numerous bays also shut down.

Similarly, the Washington State Department of Health has halted all recreational shellfish harvesting in Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay due to similarly high biotoxin levels. As of now, Washington has not reported any illnesses linked to these toxins.

The FDA has also cautioned several states to dispose of harvested shellfish, including specific oysters and bay clams harvested from designated areas in Oregon and Washington since May. These shellfish were distributed to restaurants and retailers in multiple states.

Paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) results from neurotoxins produced naturally by marine algae, which can contaminate molluscan shellfish during algal blooms. This biotoxin affects the nervous system, leading to muscle paralysis, severe illness, and potentially death.

Symptoms of PSP can manifest within 30 minutes of consuming contaminated seafood, ranging from tingling sensations to respiratory paralysis. As there’s no antidote, treatment involves supportive care, including fluid therapy and respiratory support.

To prevent contamination, the FDA advises thorough handwashing and sanitization practices in food handling. Proper cleaning and sanitization of equipment, utensils, and storage containers are crucial to minimize the risk of cross-contamination in food preparation and storage facilities.

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