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Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning

Paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) in humans is caused by ingestion of shellfish containing PSP toxins. These PSP toxins are accumulated by shellfish grazing on algae producing these toxins. Symptoms of human PSP intoxication vary from a slight tingling or numbness to complete respiratory paralysis. In fatal cases, respiratory paralysis occurs within 2 to 12 hours of consumption of the PSP contaminated food.

Pathophysiology

The toxins responsible for most shellfish poisonings are water-soluble, heat and acid-stable, and ordinary cooking methods do not eliminate the toxins. The principal toxin responsible for PSP is saxitoxin. Some shellfish can store this toxin for several weeks after a harmful algal bloom passes, but others, such as butter clams, are known to store the toxin for up to two years. Additional toxins are found, such as neosaxiton and gonyautoxins I to IV. All of them act primarily on the nervous system.

PSP can be fatal in extreme cases, particularly in immunocompromised individuals. Children are more susceptible. PSP affects those who come into contact with the affected shellfish by ingestion. Symptoms can appear ten to 30 minutes after ingestion, and include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, tingling or burning lips, gums, tongue, face, neck, arms, legs, and toes. Shortness of breath, dry mouth, a choking feeling, confused or slurred speech, and loss of coordination are also possible.

 

More Information

For more information see the Q & A section for Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning

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