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Botulism outbreak in Koyuk attributed to seal flipper

KNOM, Nome:  Three people have contracted botulism after eating separate batches of fermented seal flipper in Koyuk.

Alaska’s Division of Public Health says the first case presented signs of the illness on Friday, with two more becoming sick by Monday afternoon. All three have been transported to Anchorage for emergency medical treatment, and officials say an investigation to “identify and monitor” others who may be at risk is currently underway.

Botulism is a life-threatening disease caused by bacteria that can incubate in some traditional Alaska Native foods – including fermented seal flipper and fermented fish heads, which some consider a delicacy.

Last August a botulism outbreak in Lower Kalskag killed one person and sickened two others. Just before Christmas, an outbreak attributed to a batch of seal oil from Twin Hills hospitalized several people in Quinhagak, Twin Hills, and Dillingham.

The Alaska Dispatch News reported that death in Lower Kalskag was the first to be caused by botulism in Alaska for over a decade.

Officials are urging health care providers to immediately report suspected cases so that they can be treated quickly, and others can be prevented from eating contaminated food. Symptoms of the illness include a dry mouth, blurry vision, dizziness, stomach pain, nausea or difficulty breathing.

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