Conch poisonings spark warning

Health Minister Dr Duane Sands.

Health Minister Dr Duane Sands.

By Morgan Adderley

Tribune Staff Reporter


THERE have been four confirmed cases of conch poisoning and as many as six unconfirmed cases, Health Minister Duane Sands announced yesterday.

According to Dr Sands, the exposure took place in the previous 72 to 96 hours with a number of the patients affected having eaten at Potter’s Cay.

Noting that an outbreak of conch poisoning is something the country can “ill afford” right now, Dr Sands was adamant the issue can be easily mitigated if proper hygiene is maintained.

Four cases have been confirmed via laboratory testing but Dr Sands said there are a number of unconfirmed cases - “possibly as many as six” awaiting laboratory results. He added the affected people are being treated at both Doctors Hospital and Princess Margaret Hospital, and so far, all the self-identified patients are Bahamian.

Dr Sands said the steps to controlling the outbreak lie in proper hygiene and public and vendor awareness.

“Environmental Health teams (are speaking) directly with the vendors, not only at Potter’s Cay but throughout New Providence and anywhere else that we may have reason to suspect possibility of exposure,” Dr Sands 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 minimises, if not eliminates the possibility of transmission.

“And so we just redouble those efforts, and that combined with public education. So when you are eating your scorched conch or your conch salad, the question that you should ask every vendor, (is) ‘did you wash that conch in fresh water?’

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

Conch poisoning is caused by vibrio parahaemolyticus, a bacteria which requires salt water to live. According to Dr Sands, when ingested, vibrio bacteria can cause watery diarrhoea, which is usually accompanied by abdominal cramping, vomiting, fever, nausea, and chills.

These symptoms often occur within 24 hours of ingestion and last about three days. He added that severe illness is “rare” and typically occurs in people with a “weakened” immune system.

The last major outbreak of conch poisoning occurred in the 1990s, around 1991 and 1999, Dr Sands said. He added that there were more than 1,100 cases of vibrio parahaemolyticus poisoning during that era.

The health minister was also adamant the issue is not with the conch meat itself.

“Vibrio is not an issue of the meat itself. Vibrio is a bacteria that ordinarily lives in seawater 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. So, testing the conch meat itself is not the issue.

“We have learned historically that you can eliminate this problem by washing conch in fresh water. If you’re washing the conch with vibrio containing water, you’re not going to solve the problem. Even though the conch itself may appear clean on the surface. The way to get rid of the vibrio is to use fresh water.”

When asked if any advisories have been given out at Potter’s Cay, Dr Sands said the focus has been primarily on awareness thus far.

“We have alerted Environmental Health, we have alerted the Ministry of Health’s teams, and now all of that activity starts, so that the same type of educational campaigns to remind vendors of the need for access and use of clean, fresh water, will start.”

Dr Sands added that it would be “premature” to require any stalls to close.

“I think that’s premature, because at this point, we would rather be pre-emptive as opposed to entirely reactive,” he said.

“And given the fact that this is a preventable illness, that requires basic hygiene as it relates to conch preparation, I think there’s no reason why…we will ensure that every single vendor is reminded of the requirement to wash the conch with copious amounts of fresh, clean water.

“And so the public having been notified now, the vendors being notified now, will allow us to put a lid on what’s going on. And hopefully this remains just a blip as opposed to a significant problem with ill persons.”


Well_mudda_take_sic 6 years ago

With global warming and year after year record breaking summer temperatures, no one should be eating conch that has been kept in warm sea water near the vendor's stall or in a boat, whether at Potters Cay or anywhere else for that matter. The only conch you can safely eat between now and mid_October is conch caught in deeper (cooler) water and immediately eaten or put on ice (frozen) for eating at a later time.

K4C 6 years ago

good gawd Man you want refrigeration for seafood in the Bahamas

joeblow 6 years ago

This has nothing to do with global warming! You cannot throw conch slop and fish guts in areas where there is stagnation of sea water DURING the hottest time of year and not expect bacteria to grow that could cause illness. These fishermen then store their live conch in the same area. Quite foolish actually! Its a simple matter of poor hygiene!

Where is the department of public health in all this!!

sealice 6 years ago

we shouldn't be eating as much conch as we do - it isn't sustainable. Also it's not healthy - if we treated it like the delicacy it is we could charge more for it and then people wouldn't have to take every conch from Ship Channel Cay to the park in order to make $500 dollars. Conch fishery needs to be regulated to drive up the demand for quality and in turn return more money to the Bahamian fishermen.

themessenger 6 years ago

Right on sealice, they should take it a couple of steps further and (a) ban exports of conch and (b) put a closed season on them as they do for lobster and grouper.

SP 6 years ago

Here we go again. Blah, blah, blah, blah. We can sit around throwing around "genius" ideas about bans, saving conch until Pindling, Christie, and Ingraham admit they were the absolute worst leaders the region.

How will any ban be enforced to stop the Dominicans poaching 365 days year? NOTHING will save conch short of 24/7/365 defense force presence on conch breeding grounds.

The Dominican Republic exports more conch than the Bahamas consume and export combined, and they've fished out their waters decades ago!


The Bahamas is the laughing stock of the region, complete with pirates galore, stupid politicians, dancing clowns and one man bands.

alfalfa 6 years ago

Potters Cay is a disgrace. The conchs are kept in polluted water, the disgusting bathroom facililities, or lack thereof, have people urinating overboard right where the conchs are tied up. Garbage is piled up and strewn all over the ground, in the area opposite the Produce Exchange. Even though the sewerage treatment plant was "closed down" many years ago, there is still an offensive odour emitted from that area. While some of the vendors have beautified their stalls, the majority of them seem not to be concerned about proper cleaning of the seafood. Electricity seems to be mostly supplied by portable generators, and that begs the question; how can they get approval to operate in such deplorable conditions. If I want a restaurant license, I have to have hot and cold running water; government electricity; male and female wash rooms and health and food handling certificates. It is ludicrous to paint this area as a tourist attraction. Clean it up like you promised, and enforce all the health regulations. Maybe then conch poisoning will become a thing of the past.

Porcupine 6 years ago

Absolutely correct!

Sickened 6 years ago

I'm sure there's also a lot of vomit, feces and other fluids put into the water at Potters Cay. Let's not forget dead rats and dogs and diesel and oil and other lubricants. Well it didn't kill this last set of people so I guess they are stronger now.

bogart 6 years ago

@alfalfa....go to da head of da class.....but also google ...vibrio parahaemolyticus...then wikipaedia....read story....and..see..... brackish water.....google it..... The old waste treatment plant with all that equipment civil engineering activity... is a likely culprit......but I woudda like to believe the real big word VIBRIO PARAHAEMOLYTICUS.....is the real real culprit...lol....by da way what ever did happen to dat politocian who used to use da word ...bamboozle..

sheeprunner12 6 years ago

The idyllic old-time Bahamian way of life is slowly coming to an end in Nassau ............ so sad

Chucky 6 years ago

Nothing but prolonged exposure to heat at a high enough temperature will kill bacteria.

Anyone who thinks washing in fresh water will help is a fool and should not be giving advice about food safety.

bogart 6 years ago

WATER tests must also be done...raises da question where does all da boat toilet poop from all dose yachts, boats. Passender vessels, mail boats ..all jam up in the channel gets....by Potters Cay....gets emptied anyway while they all park up fer days an days...then again all the flies landing on all da food..on the knives...pots...pans...kitchen...in da urine smell areas all round.....muddoes !!!!....an den yinna haves all dem tourists on the lil beaches longside the channel from Long wharf...to Montagu....

Sickened 6 years ago

I heard that a group of the people that got poisoned were waiting at PMH for over 7 hours before being seen. Sitting next to blood and bandages waiting to be seen. That hospital is the most disgusting place on the planet. But who cares!!!!

bogart 6 years ago

If people gets poisoned.the smart ting is to head home..at a very quick gentle but not too jerky..bumpy pace..... Now we barrie eaters can handle dis small stuff....hair fallin out....lose a lil weight....

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