02 December 2016

Shellfish health warning for the Leschenault Estuary

The Department of Health is asking people not to eat shellfish collected from the middle to lower (southern) parts of the Leschenault Estuary in the Clifton Park region, following the recent detection of potentially harmful microscopic algae.

WA Health Environmental Health Director Jim Dodds said the detected microscopic algae ‘Alexandrium’ could produce paralytic shellfish poisoning.

"These algae, which are not visible to the naked eye, can produce a very potent neurotoxin which could be absorbed by filter feeding shellfish. In the worst case scenario it has the potential to cause muscular paralysis in people who consume affected shellfish from the estuary,” Mr Dodds said.

People who consume wild shellfish from the estuary may also experience symptoms including tingling or numbness of the lips, prickliness of the fingertips and toes, nausea or vomiting, impaired balance, loss of fluids and diarrhoea,” he said.

“Anyone who has consumed shellfish collected from this region and experiences any of these symptoms should seek urgent medical attention, particularly if they feel any respiratory distress.  Do not discard uneaten portions of mussels and shellfish.

 “Other recreational activities including swimming, fishing and boating are not affected by this species of microscopic algae.”

Shellfish includes oysters, mussels, clams, pipis, scallops, cockles and razor clams. They do not include crustaceans such as shrimp, prawns, crabs or lobsters.

As a general rule people should avoid eating wild shellfish collected recreationally as their safety cannot be guaranteed. This is particularly the case for rivers, estuaries or other waterways where there is an increased likelihood of contaminant or nutrient inputs that in turn can lead to increased microscopic algae growth.

Mr Dodds said farmed shellfish purchased in supermarkets and other commercial outlets in WA are not affected as there is a strict quality-assurance program to ensure they are safe for human consumption.

Not all waterways are always monitored for algal blooms and anyone who sees or suspects an algal bloom in a waterway, should report this to the Department of Water's ALGALWATCH during office hours on 6250 8064 or to the local council.

The Department of Water will continue to monitor algae levels in the Leschenault Estuary and provide advice to the Department of Health. 

Further information regarding wild shellfish collection is available on the Department’s consumer website at http://healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/U_Z/Wild-shellfish-collection.

ENDS

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