Pufferfish poisonings occur from eating undercooked
or poorly handled pufferfish.These rarely occur but can be severely life-threatening. It is said to be the second most poisonous creature in the world, next only to the Golden Poison Frog. It is estimated that one pufferfish can kill 30 adult human beings. Although considered a delicacy in Japan, called fugu, only licensed chefs are allowed to handle as a wrong cut could lead to death to whoever will eat it.
Pufferfish are also called balloon fish or blowfish. They are aptly named because of their ability to fill their highly elastic stomach with large amounts of air or water to give it a balloon-like shape. This serves as their defense mechanism to predators that may try to swallow these slow marine organisms. Some of the 120 species of pufferfish may also have sharp spines that are toxic.
The Deadly Toxin behind Pufferfish Poisoning
The deadly toxin behind pufferfish poisoning is called tetrodotoxin. The toxin is produced by the bacteria living in the pufferfish. Aside from pufferfish, the same toxin is found in toads, sunfish, porcupine fish, toad fish, globefish, and swellfish. It is considered to be one of the most toxic poisons in nature. Although it is highly associated with consumption of pufferfish from waters of the Indo-Pacific regions, there have been a number of cases from the Atlantic Ocean and other bodies of water in the West.
Symptoms of Pufferfish Poisoning
Symptoms of pufferfish poisoning normally manifest between 10-45 minutes after eating the pufferfish. Mild symptoms occur first which eventually progress to more severe symptoms that can lead to death.
- Numbness and tingling sensation of the lips and tongue and around the mouth
- Numbness of face and extremities
- Increased salivation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Lightness or floating sensation
- Difficulty talking
- Paralysis or extensive muscle weakness
- Shortness of breath
- Blurred vision
- Mental impairment
- Respiratory failure
First Aid for Pufferfish Poisoning
There is no antivenin available for tetrodotoxin.If anyone is suspected of pufferfish poisoning, call for emergency medical services immediately, but applying first aid in cases of pufferfish poisoning can significantly decrease chances of complications to occur. To give first aid:
- Induce vomiting if the person is awake and alert, especially if within three hours of ingestion.
- For victims who become paralyzed, give artificial respirations, e.g. mouth-to-mouth.
- If the victim loses consciousness, check for breathing and pulse. If necessary, begin CPR.
- If the victim vomits, turn the victim’s head to the side to avoid blocking airway.
Medical emergencies can occur anytime, anywhere. It is highly recommended to enroll in First Aid Training and CPR Courses to be aware of proper treatment and management of pufferfish poisoning, and poisoning from other sources.