Bay of Plenty shellfish poisoning count climbs

Last updated 17:01 18/12/2012

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Twenty people have been poisoned after eating shellfish collected in the Bay of Plenty area in the past week.

Two people remain in intensive care in hospital with health officials calling the paralytic shellfish outbreak the worst in the region’s history.

Since December 12, 20 people have fallen ill and 10 have been admitted to hospital after suffering symptoms ranging from tingling around the mouth to difficulty walking, a statement issued by the Bay of Plenty District Health Board said.

Four remain in hospital. Of the four, two are in intensive care. Their conditions were described as serious, but stable. The other two were in general wards in the hospital.

"The shellfish, which seem to be most implicated in our cases, is the tuatua,'' Public Health medical officer of health Dr Neil de Wet said.

People are strongly advised against collecting shellfish from Tairua on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, south to Waihi Beach and along the Bay of Plenty coast to Whakatane Heads in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. 

The warning includes Tairua Harbour as well as Tauranga Harbour, Maketu and Waihi estuaries, Matakana and Motiti Islands, and all other inshore islands along this coastline.

The health warning applies to all bi-valve shellfish including mussels, pipi, tuatua, cockles, oysters, scallops as well as cat’s eyes and kina (sea urchin).

Paua, crayfish and crabs can still be taken but as always, the gut should be removed before cooking.

Consumption of shellfish affected by the paralytic shellfish toxin can cause numbness and tingling around the mouth, face or extremities; difficulty swallowing or breathing; dizziness; double vision; and in severe cases, paralysis and respiratory failure. 

These symptoms usually occur within 12 hours of a person consuming affected shellfish. 

Anyone suffering illness after eating shellfish should seek urgent medical attention.

The levels of toxins being reported from routine shellfish sampling, and the number and severity of cases underline that collecting shellfish from the affected area is a significant health risk.

De Wet stressed  the importance of heeding the health warning and making sure that friends and visitors to the area were made aware of the risk.

“Tell your family, whanau, friends and tourists that collecting shellfish is not safe at present. 

‘‘If you see someone collecting shellfish remind them – we don’t want anyone else in hospital this holiday”.

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