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FDA Is Warning 8 States to Avoid Certain Shellfish Over Toxins

Over 30 people have been infected with paralytic shellfish poisoning after consuming them.

For many of us, the arrival of summer means the chance to indulge in more seasonal selections. In addition to summer fruits and veggies, you might also fire up the grill and prepare more seafood. But before you pick up shellfish from the supermarket or order it at your favorite restaurant, you'll want to pay attention to a new alert from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency is actively warning residents of eight states to avoid certain shellfish over toxin concerns and shellfish poisoning.

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Per a June 5 advisory, consumers in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New York, Oregon, and Washington are urged to avoid oysters and bay clams from growing areas in Netarts Bay and Tillamook Bay, Oregon, harvested since May 28. They are also asked to avoid all shellfish species from areas in Willapa Bay, Washington, including Stony Point, Bay Center, and Bruceport, harvested since May 26.

The shellfish were distributed to restaurants and retailers in the aforementioned eight states. However, the FDA warns that they "may have been distributed to other states as well." The agency issued the alert due to fears that the shellfish are contaminated with neurotoxins called saxitoxins or paralytic shellfish toxins (PSTs).

Molluscan shellfish become contaminated with these natural toxins from the water they live in. The toxins are produced by marine algae, and when shellfish eat them, the toxins build up in their flesh. Shellfish clear the toxins at different speeds, and because some take more time, this ups the chances of them posing a human health risk, the FDA explains. When people consume shellfish contaminated with these toxins, they can develop paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP).

To date, at least 31 people in Oregon have gotten sick as a result of eating contaminated shellfish, PBS News Hour reports.

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 If you become infected with PSP, you will start to show symptoms within 30 minutes. Signs of intoxication range from "tingling of the lips, mouth, and tongue to respiratory paralysis and may include these other symptoms: numbness of arms and legs, 'pins and needles' sensation, weakness, loss of muscle coordination, floating feeling, nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness, vomiting, and headache," the FDA alert states.

According to the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), anyone who eats contaminated shellfish is at risk of illness or death. However, when patients survive for 24 hours with or without respiratory support, "the prognosis is considered good," the FDA says. In these cases, PSP doesn't pose the threat of lasting side effects. However, when PSP is fatal, death typically results from asphyxiation.

"Due to the range in severity of illness, people should consult their healthcare provider if they suspect that they have developed symptoms that resemble paralytic shellfish poisoning," the FDA alert reads. There is no antidote for PSP, and treatment involves respiratory support and fluid therapy.

It's important to note that foods containing these toxins often look, smell, and taste normal—and the toxins aren't removed when the shellfish are cooked or frozen, the FDA warns. People who have consumed Oregon shellfish since May 13 are urged to fill out a survey to help investigators get a better understanding of how many people are sick and the possible cause of the outbreak, the Oregon Health Authority said in a May 31 press release.

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While illness concerns are paramount, the outbreak could have larger implications for Pacific Northwest fisheries, as the shellfish industry in this region generates about $270 million annually, PBS News Hour reports.

In Oregon, authorities have shut down the entire coastline to the harvesting of mussels, razor clams, and bay clams. Three bays have also been closed to commercial oyster harvesting in Oregon, while authorities in Washington have closed the state's Pacific coastline to shellfish harvesting. Officials warn that it may take weeks, months, or even a year for toxin levels to go down, as different shellfish process the toxins at different speeds.

Such high level of PSPs haven't been reported in Oregon since 1992 when there was a similar harvesting closure, per PBS News Hour.

Abby Reinhard
Abby Reinhard is a Senior Editor at Best Life, covering daily news and keeping readers up to date on the latest style advice, travel destinations, and Hollywood happenings. Read more
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