The first public health warning against taking potentially toxic shellfish has been issued, initially covering the east coast from Granville Point, at the southern end of Henderson Bay, to Cape Karikari, including Houhora and Rangaunu harbours, but extended northwards yesterday to North Cape, including Parengarenga Harbours, following reports of illness after consuming shellfish collected from Rarawa Beach.

The Ministry for Primary Industries issued the warning not to collect or consume shellfish harvested from those areas on Tuesday, noting that cooking or freezing shellfish would not make them safe to eat.

Routine tests had shown levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) toxins above the safe limit of 0.8mg/kg. In severe cases, the toxins could cause paralysis and respiratory failure within 12 hours of consuming affected mussels, oysters, tuatua, pipi, toheroa, cockles, scallops, any other bivalves, cats' eyes and kina.

Pāua, crabs and crayfish may still be eaten if the gut has been completely removed prior to cooking.

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Symptoms typically appear between 10 minutes and three hours after ingestion and include numbness and tingling around the mouth, face, hands and feet, possibly with dizziness and difficulty swallowing or breathing, vomiting, diarrhoea, paralysis and respiratory failure.

Anyone who becomes ill after eating shellfish should phone Healthline (0800 611-116) or seek medical attention. immediately. They may also contact the Northland District Health Board Public Health Unit at Whangārei Hospital, on (09) 430-4100, and ask to speak with the on-call health protection officer.