Saturday, Jul 11, 2020
HomeHomeFour confirmed with conch poisoning

Four confirmed with conch poisoning

Health authorities yesterday confirmed four cases of conch poisoning stemming from Potter’s Cay in the last 72 hours, but said the outbreak of vibrio parahaemolyticus can be easily prevented by vendors washing their conch supplies in fresh water.

Vibrio parahaemolyticus is a bacterium found in brackish saltwater, which, when ingested, causes symptoms including abdominal cramps, vomiting, headache, diarrhea and fever.

“This is a preventable illness that requires basic hygiene as it relates to conch preparation,” said Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands during a press conference at the Ministry of Health of Meeting Street.

“I think there is no reason why we can’t say, we will ensure that every single vendor is reminded of the requirement to wash the conch with copious amounts of fresh, clean water.

“To those in the purchasing public, if your vendor does not have access to fresh tap water or distilled water, and is only washing the conch in seawater, until we get the all clear, don’t buy from that vendor.”

The four confirmed cases of vibrio patients are Bahamians.

There were at least six more people exhibiting symptoms that have yet to be confirmed as vibrio.

Sands assured the public that health officials, who received reports of the cases yesterday morning, have mobilized in conjunction with the Ministry of the Environment to take the necessary steps to protect the health of those affected and, through targeted interventions, prevent further cases.

The minister also advised that all conch vendors will be required to take a food handling course, and maintain fresh potable water at their stalls.

As it relates to the unconfirmed cases, Sands said those patients, who were admitted to the Emergency Room at Doctors Hospital and Princess Margaret Hospital in the last 24 hours with gastroenteritis, were awaiting lab results.

“Bear in mind that gastroenteritis can occur for a number of reasons,” he said.

“And so, to ascribe a case of gastroenteritis to vibrio would require confirmatory testing.”

Sands said one of the priorities of the ministry is to have the conversation with the public early and spread awareness.

“The second thing we would like to do and we have started to do is to ensure that the environmental health teams speak directly with the vendors, but throughout New Providence and anywhere else we may suspect a possibility of exposure,” the minister said.

“We learned back in the 1990s that this is easily controlled if people practice very simple techniques of washing conch with fresh water, and that minimizes, if not eliminates, the possibility of transmission. And so, we just redouble those efforts, that combined with public education.”

Additionally, Sands advised conch purchasers to ask vendors and restaurants whether the conch has been washed in fresh water before purchasing and eating it.

“If the answer is affirmative, then you ought to feel reasonably comfortable that you can eat it,” he said. “If the answer is not, then I wouldn’t suggest that you do.”

No vendor has been closed down as a result of the cases presented.

Sands said that would be premature, noting that vibrio can be easily prevented.

Thousands of visitors frequent Potter’s Cay and other venues to sample conch in the variety of ways it is prepared, such as conch salad, where the conch is consumed raw with vegetables, pepper and lime.

According to health officials, cooking the conch removes the chance of it being contaminated.

There were 223 cases of conch poisoning in New Providence in 2003.

In 1991 and 1999, there were also outbreaks of conch poisoning with a combined 1,100 cases, Sands said.


Sands was asked whether the ministry has periodically tested random conch batches from vendors.

“This is not an issue of the meat itself,” he responded.

“Vibrio is a bacteria that ordinarily lives in sea water and is a part of the surface of the conch.

“The conch meat itself is not infected with vibrio parahaemolyticus, so you can wash it off.

“Testing the conch meat itself is not the issue.

“We have learned historically that you can eliminate this problem by washing the conch in fresh water.

“If you are washing the conch with vibrio containing water, you are not going to solve the problem, even though the conch may appear clean on the surface.”

Sands said while this is a breaking matter, and the ministry has a strategic plan, it has not gotten to the stage of testing batches of conch and the storage water, but “that does not mean that we won’t get there”.

Vibrio symptoms can persist for 72 hours, and in some cases require hospitalization from dehydration. Those experiencing symptoms are asked to contact the ministry’s surveillance unit on 502-4790 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Six months on, still
Strong support for m