July 11, 2020

Whatcom County Beaches Closed Due to Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning

According to a press release from the Whatcom County Health Department, Whatcom County beaches have been closed to recreational shellfish harvest because the paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) biotoxin has reached unsafe levels in molluscan shellfish in Drayton Harbor.

Whatcom County Beaches Closed Because of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning

All shellfish that is sold in restaurants and in retail markets has been tested before it is marketed and is safe to eat.

Algae that contain marine biotixins can’t be seen by the human eye. The only way to find them is through laboratory testing. During a biotoxin event, mussels and varnish clams usually contain the highest concentration of the PSP toxin. PSP and other naturally occurring toxins are not destroyed by cooking or freezing.

While crab meat is not affected by this toxin, crab butter and crab entrails can contain the biotoxin. Molluscan shellfish include clams, mussels, oysters, and scallops.

Paralytic shellfish poisoning biotoxin can cause severe illness and death. The first symptoms of this poisoning include numbness and tingling of the lips and tongue, which can begin minutes after eating contaminated shellfish. These symptoms can also begin after about an hour or two.

The symptoms progress to tingling of the fingers and toes, then loss of control or the arms and legs, followed by difficulty breathing. Some people experience nausea or a sense of floating. If someone consumes enough of the toxin, muscles of the chest and abdomen become paralyzed, including the muscles used for breathing, causing suffocation. Death from Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning has occurred in less than 30 minutes.

The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife issued an order closing all recreational intertidal molluscan shellfish harvest because of the coronavirus pandemic. Biotoxin levels can change rapidly. All shellfish harvesters are advised to check for closures at the Department of Health website before harvesting anywhere in the state.

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