For the first time in a decade, a person has died of paralytic shellfish poisoning in Alaska, according to the State Medical Examiner's Office.
The person who died had eaten blue mussels and snails collected from a Dutch Harbor beach on July 4, according to a news release from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. The shellfish had been cooked before they were eaten and symptoms began about four hours later. Symptoms included tingling in the fingers, numbness, a floating sensation and vomiting. Later, the patient reported numbness in their mouth, weakness in their hands and pain in their neck and back. The patient was transported to a local clinic and then to an Anchorage hospital, where they died.
The patient did have underlying health conditions, but the primary cause of death was determined to be PSP exposure. Two other people ate smaller amounts of the same shellfish but did not develop symptoms.
It's the first death linked to PSP since 2010, although serious illnesses have been reported. The state has recorded four previous PSP deaths since 1993, along with more than 100 cases of shellfish poisoning.
Blue mussels collected from the same Dutch Harbor beach on the same day the shellfish were eaten were found to have toxin levels more than 100 times higher than the safe regulatory limit. The snail samples also had elevated toxin levels, but not as high.
Warnings have been issued to the community.
High levels of algal toxins that can lead to paralytic shellfish poisoning have been recently identified in non-commercially harvested shellfish from numerous Alaska communities. Recent PSP reports from local communities have found dangerous levels of toxins in butter clams and/or blue mussels from beaches in Craig, Chignik Lagoon, Hydaburg, Ketchikan, Kodiak, Kasaan, Juneau, Metlakatla, and Unalaska, among others.
Recreational gatherers should always be cautious of the dangers of PSP from all shellfish species harvested on beaches across Alaska. There are no beaches that are certified or designated as "safe" beaches for shellfish harvesting in Alaska. Non-commercially harvested shellfish may contain paralytic shellfish toxins that, if ingested, can cause death. Anyone consuming non-commercial shellfish does so at his or her own risk.
Commercially harvested shellfish, however, are considered safe to consume. This is because commercial harvesters are required by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to have products regularly tested for toxins that can cause PSP.
The public should be aware that PSP toxins are not destroyed by cooking or freezing shellfish before consumption. PSP toxins have also been found in crab viscera, known as crab butter; crab should be cleaned and eviscerated before being cooked.
If you think you have PSP symptoms, call 911 and seek immediate medical attention.