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Food-Info.net> Topics > Food Safety > Toxins > Overview of food-borne toxins

Tetrodotoxin

General characteristics

Tetrodotoxin is a toxic compound produced by the pufferfish. Fish poisoning by consumption of members of the order Tetraodontiformes is one of the most violent intoxications from marine species. The gonads, liver, intestines, and skin of pufferfish can contain levels of tetrodotoxin sufficient to produce rapid and violent death. The flesh of many pufferfish may not usually be dangerously toxic.

Tetrodotoxin has also been isolated from widely differing animal species, including the California newt, parrotfish, frogs of the genus Atelopus, the blue-ringed octopus, starfish, angelfish, and xanthid crabs.

The real source of tetrodotoxin is uncertain. No algal source has been identified, and until recently tetrodotoxin was assumed to be a metabolic product of the host. However, recent reports of the production of tetrodotoxin/anhydrotetrodotoxin by several bacterial species, including strains of the family Vibrionaceae , Pseudomonas sp ., and Photobacterium phosphoreum , point toward a bacterial origin of this family of toxins. These are relatively common marine bacteria that are often associated with marine animals. If confirmed, these findings may have some significance in toxicoses that have been more directly related to these bacterial species.

Structure of tetrodotoxin

Disease symptoms

The first symptom of intoxication is a slight numbness of the lips and tongue, appearing between 20 minutes to three hours after eating poisonous pufferfish. The next symptom is increasing paraesthesia in the face and extremities, which may be followed by sensations of lightness or floating. Headache, epigastric pain, nausea, diarrhoea, and/or vomiting may occur. Occasionally, some reeling or difficulty in walking may occur. The second stage of the intoxication is increasing paralysis. Many victims are unable to move; even sitting may be difficult. There is increasing respiratory distress. Speech is affected, and the victim usually exhibits cyanosis, and hypotension. Paralysis increases and convulsions, mental impairment, and cardiac arrhythmia may occur. The victim, although completely paralysed, may be conscious and in some cases completely lucid until shortly before death. Death usually occurs within 4 to 6 hours, with a known range of about 20 minutes to 8 hours.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of pufferfish poisoning is based on the observed symptomology and recent dietary history

Associated foods

Poisonings from tetrodotoxin have been almost exclusively associated with the consumption of pufferfish from waters of the Indo-Pacific ocean regions. Several reported cases of poisonings, including fatalities, involved pufferfish from the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Gulf of California.

There have been no confirmed cases of poisoning from the Atlantic pufferfish, Spheroides maculatus . The trumpet shell Charonia sauliae has been implicated in food poisonings, and evidence suggests that it contains a tetrodotoxin derivative. There have been several reported poisonings from mislabelled pufferfish and at least one report of a fatal episode when an individual swallowed a California newt.

Estimates as high as 200 cases per year with mortality approaching 50% have been reported, practically all in Japan, outbreaks in countries outside the Indo-Pacific area are very rare.

Prevention

This toxicosis may be avoided by not consuming pufferfish or other animal species containing tetrodotoxin. Most other animal species known to contain tetrodotoxin are not usually consumed by humans.

Risk populations

All humans are susceptible to tetrodotoxin poisoning. Poisoning from tetrodotoxin is of major public health concern primarily in Japan, where "fugu" is a traditional delicacy. It is prepared and sold in special restaurants where trained and licensed individuals carefully remove the viscera to reduce the danger of poisoning. Importation of pufferfish into European countries or the United States is not generally permitted, although special exceptions may be granted. There is potential for misidentification and/or mislabelling, particularly of prepared, frozen fish products.

Sources:

The bad bug book : http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~mow/intro.html

 



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