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Beware of summer shellfish harvesting

With the warm summer days here to stay, hanging out by the beach and gathering shellfish has become a popular hobby, but with high temperatures and low tides, harvesters must beware of increased health risks.

The Washington State Depart-ment of Health issued a warning that the hot weather forecast for the next few days combined with low daytime tides expose shellfish to the sun, increasing the risk of illness after consumption.

Vibrio parahaemolyticus, a bacteria found naturally in the environment, grows during warm weather. More than 100 people in Washington got sick with vibriosis last year after eating raw oysters.

“Unlike other shellfish-related illnesses, vibriosis is completely preventable,” said Kim Zabel, unit supervisor for Washington State Department of Health (WSDH) Office of Shellfish and Water Protection. “Just cook your shellfish before you eat it.”

Harvesters are being advised to harvest shellfish as soon as the tide goes out, refrigerate or ice collected shellfish immediately, cook shellfish at a temperature of at least 145 degrees and check the recreational shellfish map Web site for unsafe areas at www.doh.wa.gov/shellfishsafety.htm.

Zabel said there have been confirmed sickness cases in several different counties around the region and encouraged harvesters to check before digging.

Signs are posted at various harvesting spots, however health officials encourage checking the shellfish safety Web site or calling the shellfish safety hotline at (360) 236-3330.

“It is vital to understand the difference between Vibrio and Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) and Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP),” said Maryanne Guichard, director of WSDH Office of Shellfish and Water Protection. “PSP and ASP cannot be destroyed by cooking (whereas Vibrio can be removed with cooking) ... shellfish contaminated with PSP or ASP can (make people) very sick or even die.”

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