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Health cautions still in place for any sea slugs

1300, Thursday, 22 October 2009

Health cautions still in place for any sea slugs found on Hauraki Beaches
The Auckland Regional Public Health Service is reminding people about the potential for poisonous sea slugs on Hauraki Gulf beaches, and still advising some caution.

During August and September, 15 dogs became unwell with symptoms consistent with tetrodotoxin (TTX) poisoning after eating sea slugs at Hauraki Gulf beaches. Six of these dogs died.

With a warm, long weekend predicted and people heading for the beaches, Medical Officer of Health, Dr Simon Baker says, “We want people to enjoy our beautiful coastline but keep in mind this potential ongoing risk to children and pets. Be a little more cautious about what children handle on Hauraki Gulf beaches.”

ARPHS current public health advice is:
• Children and pets still need to be supervised on Hauraki Gulf beaches.
• Adults, children and pets should not eat anything found washed up on any Hauraki Gulf beach.
• Parents need to be aware of where their children are swimming or playing and what they are handling.
• Sea slugs on any beach must be avoided. If you find one, mark the spot, leave well alone, phone the city or district council and ask for an Environmental Health Officer who will collect the slug safely.

TTX is known to be a potent poison found in tropical puffer fish but not previously described in sea slugs. TTX is extremely toxic to humans and even a very small dose would be fatal.
While no sightings of sea slugs have been reported recently on Auckland beaches, sea slugs are a wide-ranging organism in the marine environment of New Zealand, and a dog died in early October on the Coromandel Peninsula from TTX poisoning. Sea slugs may be found washed up on beaches anytime, anywhere, probably related to their breeding cycle and prevailing weather patterns.

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Early symptoms of TTX poisoning include numbness and tingling around the mouth, and nausea. This numbness and tingling can then spread to the face, tongue and other areas, with paralysis, in co-ordination and slurred speech. Medical attention should be sought immediately should any person become unwell after going to the beach – particularly after contact with a sea slug.

Dr Baker thanked the public for their cooperation with these ongoing warnings.
Information for a First Aid Response for Tetrodotoxin (TTX) Poisoning is available on the ARPHS’ website

For public enquiries contact: Auckland Regional Public Health Service 09 623 4600.


First Aid Response for Tetrodotoxin Poisoning

Initial symptoms following tetrodotoxin (TTX) poisoning can include: numbness around the mouth, tingling, pricking of the skin and nausea. In severe cases, paralysis rapidly advances with respiratory problems first appearing as difficult or laboured breathing. Reduced blood pressure, fixed dilated pupils and widespread paralysis follows, which may progress to breathing muscle paralysis and an inability to breathe. An irregular heartbeat may also occur.

Due to the rapid onset of life threatening effects, quick and appropriate initial management will be crucial. Prompt and sustained pulmonary resuscitation (PR) – mouth-to-mouth breathing - is essential. However, because of the risk of further poisoning, the resuscitator should wash thoroughly around the patient’s mouth area first. Chest compressions are not needed unless a pulse is absent. Although vital signs may suggest the patient is either unconscious or dead, they will remain fully aware of their circumstances and can hear the conversations of those providing support. Mouth-to-mouth must continue until the ambulance arrives. Ambulance staff can stabilise the patient and provide more advanced PR support.

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