Puffer fish kills eight and hospitalises 170

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In the past week suspected puffer fish poisoning has been responsible for killing eight people and hospitalising over 170 more.

The eight deaths occurred in Bangladesh in the Narsingdi district where 38 people - including a fishmonger - were affected after eating what locals call potka fish.

Six people died at home and a further two in hospital whilst the rest were admitted after falling sick as a result of eating the fish.

The local union chairman also reported that crows, cats and dogs had died after eating the skin of the fish.

Hospitalised
In a completely separate incident, 140 people were hospitalised in Thailand after eating a soup with fish balls following a funeral.

After the meal, guests started vomiting, complaining of numbness in the tongue and shortness of breath. Doctors believe that the symptoms are indicative of puffer fish poisoning.

The fish balls were bought from a local market where although puffer fish has been banned in Thailand as a food since 2002, there is still an active trade for puffer fish where it is passed off as more expensive meats.

Tetraodotoxin
There are thought to be around 120 species of puffer fish. Parts of the fish contain a toxin called tetradotoxin which can be up to 1200 times more poisonous than cyanide.

There is enough poison in a single puffer fish to kill 30 people. However, the fish known as fugu in Japan is also considered a delicacy in parts of the world and in Japan chefs have to have a special license to prepare it.

Symptoms of tetradotoxin poisoning can occur anything from 15 minutes to several hours later and include numbness, nausea, vomiting, extreme stomach pains and sometimes paralysis and death. There is no known antidote to tetradotoxin poisoning.

It s no all doom and gloom however, this month WEX Pharmaceuticals Inc in Canada have just entered Phase 3 trials of Tectin" - the active ingredient of which is tetrodotoxin - to treat extreme pain in cancer sufferers and withdrawal symptoms in heroin addicts.

Previous trials have shown a 71% success rate in effectively treating pain and suggest that the drug may be as much as 3,000 times as effective as morphine.