Paralytic shellfish poisoning found in Tas Huon Estuary

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 11th April 2011

Tasmania’s Department of Health and Human Services today renewed the public health warning not to eat wild shellfish from the Huon Estuary and parts of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, after a man fell ill with paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) after eating contaminated mussels.

Deputy Director of Public Health, Dr Chrissie Pickin, said the man, in his 50s, developed PSP this week after eating mussels foraged at Dover from waters currently affected by toxic algal bloom.

“The individual concerned was treated at the Royal Hobart Hospital. He has since been discharged and is now recuperating at home,” Dr Pickin said.

“However PSP is a potentially fatal condition so it is essential that members of the public do not collect and eat wild shellfish from the affected waters.”

Shellfish includes oysters, mussels, clams and scallops with roe on. Scallops eaten without the roe do not pose a risk.
Dr Pickin said that this particular warning does not apply to shellfish farms outside the affected areas, nor does it apply to abalone or rock lobster. Commercial shellfish farms in the affected areas are currently closed.
The toxins from the algal bloom, now active in the Huon and D’Entrecasteaux areas, accumulates in the bodies of shellfish, causing them to become toxic to humans for periods between several weeks and two years (depending on the shellfish).

Dr Pickin said PSP caused a number of symptoms including tingling or numbness around the mouth, face, fingers, toes and limbs; blurred vision; and progressive weakness of the muscles.

“The symptoms start rapidly after eating contaminated shellfish and can progress quickly to life-threatening breathing difficulties or paralysis.

“The toxins are not destroyed by cooking the shellfish. Do not collect and eat wild shellfish from or near the affected areas for the foreseeable future,” Dr Pickin said.

The warning applies to the area South of a line between Middleton and Simpsons Point, North Bruny Island and north of a line between South East Cape and The Friars, South Bruny Island, including embayments within this area.

“These boundaries are not definitive due to the transitory nature of the bloom so it is advisable for people not to harvest wild shellfish even within close vicinity of these boundaries,” Dr Pickin said.

“The Department of Health and Human Services will continue to monitor the bloom closely, and will keep Tasmanians advised of developments.”

“If symptoms are experienced after eating shellfish from or near the affected areas, please seek medical attention immediately. Medical services in the area have been informed of the potential risk.”

The Tasmanian government said the shellfish health alert will be monitored over coming weeks. However, the standing advice from the Public and Environmental Health Service is only to eat shellfish from approved retail outlets at any time in Tasmania.

“I also want to assure people that there is no danger to swimmers in the affected areas,” she said.