Lethal Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning in Guatemala

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  • Center for Infectious Diseases and Center for Environmental Health, Centers for Disease Control, Food and Drug Administration, Laboratorio Unificado de Control de Alimentos y Medicamentos, Guatemala Ministry of Health, Atlanta, Georgia, Guatemala
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An outbreak of paralytic shellfish poisoning occurred in Champerico, on the Pacific coast of Guatemala, July–August 1987. Of 187 people affected with characteristic neurologic symptoms, 26 died. A case study implicated a species of clam, Amphichaena kindermani, harvested from local beaches as the vehicle of the neurotoxins (saxitoxins). Children < 6 years old had a higher fatality rate (50%) than people > 18 years of age (7%). The minimum lethal dose for 1 child was estimated to have been 140 mouse units of toxin/kg body weight; thus children may be more sensitive to the saxitoxins than are adults. This is the first large outbreak of paralytic shellfish poisoning recognized in Guatemala.