Fishkeeper poisoned by dead fish

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The curator of a public aquarium has been poisoned by a dead porcupine puffer fish after he sustained a series of minor pricks from its spines during an autopsy.

According to a paper from a team of toxicologists from the National Poisons Information Centre in The Netherlands, which has been published in the latest issue of the journal Clinical Toxicology, the curator suffered from tetrodotoxin or TTX intoxication as a result of the pricks he received.

Although the fish was dead, the man came into direct contact with organ fluids, allowing the tetrodotoxin to enter his system through the punctures the spines had left in his skin. His symptoms included dizziness, headache, numbness, paresthesias (a loss of sensation) and paresis (a loss of movement of the limbs).

Tetrodotoxin - or anhydrotetrodotoxin 4-epitetrodotoxin to use its formal name - is a potent neurotoxin found in many members of the Order Tetraodontiformes, which includes pufferfishes, porcupinefishes, trigger fish and sun fish.

While most widely known from tetraodontiform fish, tetrodotoxin is actually the product of bacteria, including Pseudoalteromonas tetraodonis and occurs in other organisms including some flatworms, star fish and the Blue-ringed octopus.

Small doses of tetrodotoxin can induce respiratory problems that frequently lead to death, especially if the toxin has been consumed. There is no antidote and death can occur anywhere between 20 minutes and eight hours after intoxication.

For more information on the study see the paper: van Gorcum TF, Janse M, Leenders ME, de Vries I, Meulenbelt J (2006) - Intoxication following minor stabs from the spines of a porcupine fish. Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2006;44(4):391-3.