Kodiak tries new test for shellfish toxins

Posted: Monday, June 19, 2000

KODIAK -- Kodiak Island is the testing site this summer for a newly developed Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning monitoring kit.

Similar to a home pregnancy test, the device is quick. Ten minutes after applying a drop of juice extracted from ground-up shellfish, red lines appear on the kit. A single red line indicates the shellfish are toxic. Two lines indicate they're safe to eat.

PSP is a potentially fatal condition with symptoms that include tingling sensations, difficulty swallowing and a severe headache. It is caused by eating toxin-contaminated shellfish.

Jellett Biotek of Nova Scotia, Canada, is field-testing Mist Alert with the help of a group of village and town teenagers, Kodiak Area Youth Watch, who will conduct the tests on shellfish gathered at local beaches.

The results of the pilot program will be used to see how well the tests work in the field when conducted by lay people. Developers hope the results will help to create a long-term monitoring map that may one day be used to allow people on Kodiak Island to harvest shellfish without fear of PSP poisoning.

The $20 test comes in a small packet and does not need refrigeration.

Dr. Brian Himelbloom, a seafood microbiology professor with the Fishery Industrial Technology Center, is pleased that such a quick and simple PSP test has been developed.

``It's cutting-edge technology. Personally I never thought that anyone would get to this stage,'' he told the Kodiak Daily Mirror. ``If it works as well as it does in the lab, a lot of people will benefit. But first, it has to be proven safe within shadow of a doubt, because there are lives involved.''

The test, which has not yet received approval by the Federal Drug Administration, has proved highly successful in the laboratory, according to its developers.

The kit is being tested in Kodiak because Alaska shellfish have the highest levels of PSP toxins in the world, and are more broadly distributed in Kodiak Island than anywhere else. Several people have become sick and died on Kodiak Island from PSP poisoning in recent years.

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