Scientists Warn of Lethal Shellfish in a Part of Alaska

mussels photo

Photo: andrewmalone

Public health officials are warning that toxic algae is contaminating some Alaskan shellfish and the toxin could kill humans. High concentrations of the poisonous compound have been found in the Southeastern tip of the state, near the town of Ketchikan. Find out what to look out for if you're a shellfish eater.Algae blooms are contributing to record high levels of a toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning. The disease can cause paralyzing of the body's internal organs.

According to Reuters:

The most poisonous shellfish discovered were baby mussels at a dock in Ketchikan with toxin levels of more than 30,000 micrograms per hundred grams of shellfish meat. This is well over the 80-microgram level considered toxic, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has warned.

Those levels are so high that a single mussel could kill several people, scientists at the University of Alaska Southeast said in a statement on Thursday.

Warnings about the deadly toxin have been posted throughout the area on beaches, docks, and in area stores. Symptoms of the disease start with tingling in the mouth which then spreads to the rest of the body.

"If it gets to your lungs, it shuts them down," said Greg Wilkinson, a spokesman for the state health department. Commercially caught fish are tested for the toxin by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation before hitting the market but the toxin is a huge scare for those that catch their own shellfish. Two people have already been hospitalized due to the toxin.

The toxin is due to the proliferation of a certain form of algae. Harmful algae blooms can be caused by coastal pollution from human sewage and agricultural runoff though it's unclear the cause of this bloom.

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