Key Points About FDA Warning Regarding Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning in the Pacific Northwest

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises consumers to steer clear of shellfish from Oregon and Washington state due to potential contamination with toxins causing paralytic shellfish poisoning. Oregon has reported at least 31 cases of illness linked to this issue. Here’s a breakdown of the FDA’s cautionary notice:

FDA Warning Details

  • The advisory urges avoidance of oysters and bay clams sourced from Netarts and Tillamook bays in northern Oregon since May 28, as well as shellfish from surrounding areas near Willapa Bay in southern Washington since May 26.
  • These shellfish may contain elevated levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), a toxin produced naturally by algae.
  • Products harvested during this period have been distributed to several states beyond Oregon and Washington, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, and New York, prompting the FDA to advise restaurants and retailers against serving them.

Current Situation

  • Elevated toxin levels were initially detected in Oregon shellfish on May 17, leading to a paralytic shellfish poisoning outbreak affecting at least 31 individuals.
  • The Oregon Health Authority has initiated a survey for those who harvested or consumed Oregon shellfish since May 13 to aid in the investigation.
  • Oregon has closed its entire coastline for the harvesting of mussels, razor clams, and bay clams, with three bays, including those mentioned in the FDA advisory, closed for commercial oyster harvesting.
  • In Washington, shellfish harvesting along the Pacific coastline, including mussels, clams, scallops, and oysters, has been suspended.

Understanding Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP)

  • PSP results from saxitoxin, a neurotoxin naturally produced by algae, causing damage to nerve tissue.
  • Symptoms include mouth and lip numbness, vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath, and severe cases may involve irregular heartbeat.
  • There’s no antidote for PSP, and severe cases may require mechanical ventilation for breathing assistance.

Causes and Duration

  • The current algal bloom in Oregon’s coastal waters has led to unprecedented PSP toxin levels.
  • Harmful algal blooms are influenced by various natural and human-induced factors, including water circulation, temperature, and nutrient influx.
  • It may take weeks to months, or even up to a year for toxin levels to diminish, depending on shellfish type. Mussels can cleanse toxins within weeks, while razor clams may take several months to a year.

Frequency and Economic Impact

  • High PSP toxin levels of this magnitude haven’t been recorded in Oregon for decades.
  • However, PSP has historically been prevalent in regional waters.
  • The harvesting closures may impact the Pacific Northwest fisheries, which contribute significantly to the local economy, generating $270 million annually and employing around 3,200 individuals.
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