Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning Reported In Pacific Northwest


Twenty people were reportedly sickened by a naturally occurring biotoxin after gathering mussels from beaches in Oregon.

bucket of mussels; Image credit: shapelined-s5aER1gasW4-unsplash

Wild mussel harvesting has caused at leat 20 people in Oregon to become ill.
Image credit: shapelined-s5aER1gasW4-unsplash

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) reported that at least 20 people have become sickened with paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP). Those infected individuals fell ill after recreationally harvesting mussels last Saturday or Sunday at the following locations: Short Beach near Oceanside in Tillamook County, and Hug Point and near Seaside in Clatsop County. Some people have been hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported according to OHA.1

“If you have any mussels gathered since Saturday from beaches within the area of coastline that ODFW and [Oregon Department of Agriculture] ODA closed to harvesting—that you are preparing for a meal or keeping in the freezer for a later time—throw them out now and do not feed them to pets,” said Emilio DeBess, epidemiologist at the Oregon Public Health Division’s Acute and Communicable Disease Prevention Section. “And if you have eaten any of these mussels and are feeling ill, see a doctor right away.”1

With the ongoing issue, The Oregon Department of Agriculture and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced that mussel harvesting had been closed from the Washington border south to Seal Rock State Park.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PSP is the most common and most severe form of shellfish poisoning. PSP is caused by eating shellfish contaminated with saxitoxins. These potent neurotoxins are produced by various dinoflagellates. A wide range of shellfish can cause PSP, but most cases occur after people eat clams or mussels. 2

CDC reports PSP occurs worldwide but is most common in temperate waters off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America, including Alaska.2

What You Need to Know

At least 20 people in Oregon have fallen ill due to paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) after harvesting mussels from specific beaches in Tillamook and Clatsop counties. Some cases have required hospitalization, though no deaths have been reported.

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and other state departments have issued warnings to discard any mussels gathered from the affected areas since last Saturday. People are advised not to consume these mussels or feed them to pets, and to seek medical attention immediately if they experience symptoms after ingestion.

PSP is the most severe type of shellfish poisoning, caused by saxitoxins from dinoflagellates. Symptoms typically appear within 30 to 60 minutes and include numbness, tingling, diarrhea, vomiting, and in severe cases, respiratory failure.

Symptoms and Treatment
CDC also explains that symptoms typically appear 30 to 60 minutes after a person ingests toxic shellfish and they can include numbness and tingling of the face, lips, tongue, arms, and legs. Patients also might have diarrhea and vomiting, headache, and nausea.2

In severe food poisoning cases associated with ingestion of large doses of toxin and clinical features such as ataxia, dysphagia, flaccid paralysis, mental status changes, and respiratory failure.2

For milder cases, treatment is supportive, and in severe cases of paralytic shellfish poisoning where respiratory failure has occurred, mechanical ventilation may be required.2

Officials at the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division also recommend people who experience any symptoms of PSP to immediately contact a health care provider. They can also get advice by calling the Oregon Poison Center at 800-222-1222.1

1.Throw out mussels harvested between Washington border, Seal Rock State Park. OHA news statement. May 27, 2024. Accessed May 30, 2024.
2. Food Poisoning from Marine Toxins. CDC Yellow Book 2024. CDC. Last reviewed May 1, 2023. Accessed May 30, 2024.

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