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California Health Officials Warn "Don't Eat The Shellfish"

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H.Alexander Talbot/Wikimedia Commons
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If your summer vacation plans along California's north coast include a good old-fashioned clam dig, think again.

State health officials are warning that mussel and razor clam samples in Humboldt and Del North Counties are showing dangerous levels of domoic acid, a powerful naturally-occuring neurotoxin that can sicken humans who eat contaminated shellfish.

Officials at the California Department of Public Health say domoic acid may be present in other species that have not yet been tested. This toxin, also known as Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning, can cause illness or death in humans. No cases of human poisoning from domoic acid are known to have occurred in California. 

These warnings don't apply to commercially sold clams, mussels, scallops or oysters from approved sources. State law permits only state-certified commercial shellfish harvesters or dealers to sell these products. Shellfish sold by certified harvesters and dealers are subject to frequent mandatory testing to monitor for toxins. 

Symptoms of domoic acid poisoning can occur within 30 minutes to 24 hours after eating toxic seafood. In mild cases, symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache and dizziness. These symptoms disappear within several days. In severe cases, the victim may experience trouble breathing, confusion, disorientation, cardiovascular instability, seizures, excessive bronchial secretions, permanent loss of short term memory, coma or even death. 

For the most current information about shellfish poisoning and health advisories, call CDPH’s toll-free “Shellfish Information Line” at (800) 553-4133. For additional information visit CDPH’s Natural Marine Toxins: PSP and Domoic Acid Web page.