Toxin keeps shellfish off Christmas menu

16:00, Dec 21 2012

With Christmas just a couple of days away, some families will be going without their staple Christmas spread after a paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) warning put a stop to the North Island seafood supply.

The potentially fatal PSP toxins are affecting all bi-valve shellfish, including mussels, pipi, tuatua, cockles, oysters, scallops as well as kina, meaning kaimoan may be off the Christmas dinner menu.

Twenty-six people have already become ill after eating pipi or tuatua gathered around Papamoa, with 13 admitted to Tauranga and Rotorua hospitals - two of them to intensive care.

A separate PSP toxin health warning has been in place on the west coast for a month and extends from Taranaki to Kaipara Harbour, north of Auckland.

But Waikato medical officer of health Dell Hood said she was concerned people were being too blase about the west coast warnings.

"I'm a little concerned that poisonings being reported from the east coast may be overshadowing the presence of an even more extensive area on the west coast where a ban is also in force, also for PSP toxin," she said.


Dr Hood said holidaymakers needed to take note of warnings.

"Many people will be heading for their holiday homes at places like Marokopa, Kawhia and Raglan and they may not be aware of the seriousness of the risk, or they may think it is an issue only on the east coast," she said.

"There is signage on both coastlines but, as events show, some people may ignore them." But Dr Hood said if people ignored the warning, it could be fatal.

"There have been previous warnings about marine biotoxins but if no serious illness was publicly reported, people may have decided warnings are overcautious.

"However, the severity of illnesses being reported this year is a wake-up call. All shellfish warnings should be taken seriously because the consequences can be very serious, and even fatal on rare occasions," she said.

Eating shellfish affected by the toxin can cause numbness and tingling around the mouth, face or extremities; difficulty swallowing or breathing; dizziness; double vision; weakness, difficulty walking and in severe cases, paralysis and respiratory failure. There can also be vomiting and/or diarrhoea. These symptoms usually occur within 12 hours of a person consuming affected shellfish.

Waikato Times