First Aid for Victims of Paralytic
Note: Document is outdated; updates coming (6/24/10).
What Is Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning?
Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) is caused by a poison pro-
duced by small organisms called dinoflagellates. Clams, mussels, oys-
ters, snails, scallops, and barnacles ingest these organisms while
feeding, and the poison is stored in their bodies. This toxin has been
found in these seafoods every month of the year, and butter clams
have been known to store the toxin for up to two years. One of the
highest concentrations of PSP in the world is reported to be in the
shellfish in southeast Alaska.
Some people have died after eating just one clam or mussel,
others after eating many—each with a small amount of poison. You
cannot tell whether the dinoflagellates are present by looking at the
water with your naked eye. No simple, reliable test for PSP exists,
and most beaches in Alaska are not tested. If you are not sure the
seafood is toxin-free, avoid eating it if it is from an area with a high
incidence of PSP.
Signs and symptoms of PSP most often occur within 10 to 30
minutes after eating affected seafood. Problems can include nausea,
vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and tingling or burning lips,
gums, tongue, face, neck, arms, legs, and toes. Later problems may
include shortness of breath, dry mouth, a choking feeling, confused
or slurred speech, and lack of coordination.
Emergency Treatment for PSP Victims
If you think someone has PSP, follow the four steps outlined
1. Is the person alert?
If the person is conscious and alert, and can speak clearly, have
him drink at least 2 glasses of water, each mixed with 3 tablespoons
of activated charcoal.
Contact the Coast Guard or a physician for further advice.
2 PSP First Aid
2. Does the person respond to you?
If the person isn’t making any noise, try to get a response by
gently tapping him and asking, “Are you okay?” If he doesn’t re-
spond, he needs help!
Yell for help if people are nearby. Contact help on the