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Oregon officials close entire coast to mussel harvest due to shellfish poisoning

SALEM, Oregon — Officials in Oregon have closed the state’s entire coastline to mussel harvesting due to an “unprecedented” outbreak of seafood poisoning that has sickened at least 20 people.

They also banned the harvest of razor clams, clams and oysters in parts of the Oregon Coast.

“We had a paralytic seafood poisoning event in Oregon that we’ve never seen in the state,” said Matthew Hunter, seafood program manager for the fisheries department. and Wildlife of Oregon, during a press briefing Friday. The unprecedented nature of the outbreak is due to both the number of species affected and the number of people who have fallen ill, he explained.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon Department of Agriculture announced new closures Thursday. High levels of the toxins were first detected in shellfish on the state’s central and northern coasts on May 17, Hunter said.

State health officials are asking people who have harvested or eaten Oregon shellfish since May 13 to complete a survey intended to help investigators identify the cause of the outbreak and the number of people sickened .

Paralytic seafood poisoning, or PSP, is caused by saxitoxin, a natural toxin produced by algae, according to the Oregon Health Authority. People who eat seafood contaminated with high levels of saxitoxins typically begin to feel ill within 30 to 60 minutes, the agency said. Symptoms include numbness of the mouth and lips, vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath, and irregular heartbeat in severe cases.

There is no antidote for PSP, according to the agency. Treatment of severe cases may require mechanical ventilators to aid breathing.

Officials warn that cooking or freezing contaminated shellfish does not kill the toxins or make them safe to eat.

Authorities in neighboring Washington state also closed the state’s Pacific coast to shellfish harvesting, including mussels, clams, scallops and oysters, according to a shellfish safety map produced by the department of Washington State Health.

Under the new restrictions from Oregon, razor clam harvesting is closed along about 185 miles of coastline, from the central coastal town of Yachats to the California state line. Clam harvesting is closed along the North Shore, from the Washington state line approximately 105 miles (169 kilometers) to Cascade Head.

Agriculture officials also shut down commercial oyster harvesting in Netarts and Tillamook bays on Oregon’s northern coast.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture says it will continue to test shellfish for toxins at least twice a month, tides and weather permitting. Reopening an area closed to biotoxins requires two consecutive tests that show toxin levels below a certain threshold, according to the agency.

ABC News

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