Health Minister Dr Duane Sands.
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
CONFIRMED cases of conch poisoning continue to climb, according to Health Minister Dr Duane Sands, who said the tally stood at 17 yesterday.
Dr Sands said the number was likely to increase unless vendors moved away from longstanding cultural practices and embraced the overwhelming evidence linking the poisonings to the use of salt water to clean conch meat.
There are 17 confirmed cases, and three pending cases from Princess Margaret Hospital and Doctors Hospital.
Dr Sands said the government was not pursuing punitive action for seafood vendors, but it may be inevitable if the problem escalates.
“Unless the vendors adhere rigidly to washing conch in fresh water, the number is going to go up and up and up,” he said.
“The bacteria is present in the water and as the temperature increases - you know we’ve had a lot of days in the 90s - it is exploding in terms of the amount of vibrio in the water. This heat is the perfect incubator for the organism.
“Unfortunately, for a number of people who work with conch, this doesn’t enter into their world - they don’t think about it. This vibrio is not an ordinary part of their conceptualisation of what needs to be done. Some actively resist the idea of washing conch in fresh water, that is like an abomination.”
Conch poisoning is caused by vibrio parahaemolyticus, a bacteria which requires salt water to live.
When ingested, vibrio bacteria can cause watery diarrhoea, which is usually accompanied by abdominal cramping, vomiting, fever, nausea, and chills.
Dr Sands said: “It has to fall on the consumer. If you eat raw conch, you either insist you watch them rinse it in fresh water or don’t eat it. If you don’t do that you run the risk of vibrio conch poisoning. Vibrio exists throughout the tropics, this is not unique to the Bahamas but we eat a lot of conch.
“So until we acknowledge the need to wash conch in fresh running water, this problem is going to continue.”