Tasmania | 27 April 2012

Tasmanians are advised not to eat wild shellfish from a number of south eastern Tasmanian waters, due to a toxic algal bloom. The public health alert applies to Port Esperance, Hastings Bay (Southport) and the coastline between.
The Acting Director of Public Health, Dr Kelly Shaw, said eating wild shellfish from the affected area may result in paralytic shellfish poisoning.
“Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning, or PSP, is caused by eating shellfish containing toxins that are produced by certain algae,” she said.“These algae occur naturally and are not a health concern at low levels. Algal blooms are regular events in south eastern Tasmania at this time of year and the current increase in numbers is not unexpected.
“With the current favourable weather conditions, we’ve seen the algae rapidly ‘bloom’. This natural process leads to toxins accumulating in the shellfish as they feed on the algae, temporarily making the shellfish dangerous to eat.”
Do not eat the following seafood from the affected area:
  • oysters
  • mussels
  • clams/pipis
  • scallops with roe
  • periwinkles
  • the gut of abalone, crab and crayfish.
Cooking does not destroy the toxins.
Scallops eaten without the roe do not pose a risk. Abalone, crab and crayfish are safe to eat, but the gut should be removed before eating.
Symptoms of PSP include tingling in the mouth and extremities, pins and needles, unsteadiness on the feet, weakness of the arms or legs and nausea. Anyone experiencing these symptoms after eating wild seafood from or near the affected area should seek immediate medical attention.
High levels of PSP toxins can be fatal in extreme cases. Children are more susceptible.
Dr Shaw reminded Tasmanians to always buy shellfish from approved retail outlets.
“The shellfish you buy from shops is safe, because we closely monitor Tasmania’s commercial shellfish industry,” she said. “In instances such as this, where our routine tests alert us to a problem, commercial shellfish farms in the affected area are closed until we are convinced the shellfish have purged all toxins and are once again safe to eat.
“While measures such as these are vital in protecting our health and safety, it is unfortunate that this is affecting many of the same operators who were closed for the same reasons last year.”
A public health warning against eating wild shellfish in a much larger area of the Huon Estuary and D’Entrecasteux Channel was issued in March last year, and lifted in July. One person was hospitalised with PSP, after harvesting and eating wild shellfish at Dover.
The only other cases of PSP in Tasmania occurred in 1986 and 1993, following large algal blooms.
For more information, go to www.publichealthalerts.tas.gov.au or call the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738.

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