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SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, April 4) - The Governor's Office and the departments of Fish and Wildlife and Public Health warned people to avoid eating fish or shellfish harvested from Lao Lao Bay for at least two weeks.

This comes soon after six people were brought to the Commonwealth Health Center Emergency Room Saturday evening with an illness consistent with paralytic shellfish poisoning.

This condition occurred after eating meat from the Spider Conch (toro) taken from Lao Lao Bay. All cases are currently in stable condition and expected to recover fully.

To ensure public safety, the Governor's Office issued a public health advisory last night, saying it is instituting a ban on harvesting fish and shellfish from Lao Lao Bay for the period of at least two weeks.

According to a DPH statement, paralytic shellfish poisoning is different from the typical reef-fish poisoning which is more common in the CNMI. This illness can sometimes be more serious with symptoms beginning with numbness, tingling and burning of the lips and tongue. These mild symptoms can sometimes advance to spread to the face, neck, arms, fingertips, legs and toes. Weakness can occur in advanced cases, and some deaths have been reported worldwide.

The DPS statement said that there have been no cases from outside Lao Lao Bay, and fishing should be considered safe in other waters around the CNMI right now.

Dr. Richard Brostrom, Medical Director of the Division of Public Health, said the DPH will be working with the DFW to monitor this situation to ensure the safety of fish and shellfish in the Lao Lao Bay area.

In an interview last night, he said the ban includes all types of fish harvested from Lao Lao Bay, although the most dangerous are shellfish. "It is, however, prudent to ban fishing and harvesting of shellfish at Lao Lao at this time."

He affirmed that paralytic shellfish poisoning is caused by what is commonly referred to a red tide, an unusual blooming of the toxic red algae.

"The combination of warm water and nitrates from farms flowing into the water, plus a combination of other environmental factors lead to the blooming of this toxic algae," he said.

If anyone is feeling minor symptoms, such as a tingling in the face, Brostrom said it is okay to remain at home. However, if any weakness, or numbness in the arms or legs develop, he said it would be best to visit the CHC emergency room.

When asked as to what treatment is available for this illness, Brostrom said: "There is no anti-toxin for this but most people do well without treatment. For worse cases, they would need IV therapy, while others would require respiratory support."

Brostrom assured, though, that fish and shellfish harvested in other CNMI waters are safe for eating. At the same time, he said the condition at Lao Lao Bay does not affect divers or swimmers. "So regular tourist activities such as swimming can go on.

April 5, 2004

Saipan Tribune


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