Warmer summer weather has brought increased risk of eating shellfish gathered on Kodiak’s beaches and beyond. 

Someone died in Unalaska on July 15 from paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), Alaska’s first death from eating poisoned shellfish since 2010. A press release the State of Alaska detailed the circumstances. 

“The individual who died consumed blue mussels and snails collected from a Dutch Harbor beach on July 4, 2020,” it read. 

“The shellfish were cooked before consumption. Symptoms began about four hours after the shellfish were eaten. The patient’s initial symptoms included tingling in the fingers, numbness, a floating sensation and vomiting. Several hours later, the patient reported numbness in their mouth, weakness in their hands and pain in their neck and back. The patient was transferred to a local clinic and then flown to an Anchorage hospital where they died. Two other people ate smaller amounts of the same shellfish but never developed symptoms.” 

This is the fifth fatality from PSP in Alaska since 1993. Over 100 people have been poisoned but not died. Risk of poisoning is higher in the summer months, as the organisms that produce the toxins are more active in warmer water. 

On Kodiak, testing on July 5 by the Kodiak Area Native Association found unsafe levels of paralytic shellfish toxins on Mission Beach Northeast, Mission Beach Southwest, North Trident Basin and South Trident Basin. All contained shellfish above the Food and Drug Administration's limit of what is considered safe, according to a press release on July 10. 

There are no rules about gathering shellfish in Alaska. The practice is considered, “Dig at your own risk.” 

According to the Alaska Division of Environmental Health, symptoms of PSP include “tingling of the lips and tongue, which may begin within minutes of eating poisonous shellfish or may take an hour or two to develop. Depending upon the amount of toxin a person has ingested, symptoms may progress to tingling of fingers and toes and then loss of control of arms and legs, followed by difficulty in breathing. Some people have experienced a sense of floating or nausea. If a person consumes enough poison, muscles of the chest and abdomen become paralyzed. Death can result in as little as two hours, as muscles used for breathing become paralyzed.” 

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