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Deadly shellfish biotoxin closes beaches in Pierce County

Oyster picking and other types of shellfishing are closed across a number of South Sound beaches due to an outbreak of paralytic shellfish poisoning.
Oyster picking and other types of shellfishing are closed across a number of South Sound beaches due to an outbreak of paralytic shellfish poisoning. News Tribune file photo

Some of Puget Sound’s prime recreational shellfish shorelines have been shut down due to elevated levels of biotoxins that can lead to illness and death in people.

The state Department of Health closed the shore from Point Fosdick to the Kitsap County line and from Day Island to the King County line. The ares include Commencement Bay, Colvos Passage and the Narrows.

Clams, oysters and mussels are off-limits due to the presence of the biotoxin called paralytic shellfish poison (PSP) produced by certain species of algae. The poison can affect the human nervous system and paralyze people’s muscles.

A person who consumes a high level of PSP can become seriously ill and even die. Onset of symptoms can occur in under 30 minutes.

Commercial shellfish — those purchased in stores and restaurants — are still safe to eat, the Department of Health said.

The health department regularly tests shellfish for PSP.

You can find a shellfish safety map at doh.wa.gov/shellfishsafety.htm, or call the marine biotoxin hotline at 800-562-5632.

While closed beaches are posted, the department of health reminds shellfish harvesters not to assume open beaches have safe shellfish.

What are the symptoms?

The state Department of Health offers these symptoms and courses of action should poisoning occur:

Tingling of the lips and tongue are early symptoms.

Tingling in fingers and toes, loss of control of arms and legs and difficulty breathing are later symptoms.

Nausea and a sense of floating also are possible symptoms.

If symptoms are mild, call your health care provider and the Health Department.

If symptoms are severe, call 911 or have someone take you to the emergency room immediately.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor
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