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Risk of death from scombroid poisoning astonishingly small

February 8th, 2014

QLD media release WED, FEBRUARY 5, 2014

A form of fish poisoning resembling an allergic reaction that occurs within a few hours of eating histamine-contaminated fish – was reportedly responsible for the recent deaths of an Aussie mum and daughter.


However according to Dr Deborah Mills (aka “Dr Deb”), Medical Director, Dr Deb The Travel Doctor, Brisbane, “The risk of dying from scombroid poisoning is astonishingly small – in fact, you’re more likely to be hit by lighting.”


Although many Australians are unaware of ‘scombroid poisoning’, it is actually a fairly common form of fish poisoning that is often under diagnosed.


“In countries where the ambient temperatures are higher and food preparation is less controlled, you would expect to see scombroid poisoning more frequently,” said Dr Deb.


“Certain fish like tailor, tuna, mackerel and anchovies have levels of the amino-acid, histidine in their bodies. This histidine turns into histamine if they are left in the sun, or not placed on ice immediately after being caught.


“When an affected fish is cooked, the levels of histamine do not disappear, and the diner will ingest the toxins,” Dr Deb said.


One of the major issues with scombroid poisoning is a lack of testing for histamine.


“The body creates natural histamine, so there are no tests for it,” Dr Deb said.


Dr Deb explains it’s not always easy to know if you are eating a toxic fish, although sometimes there are signs.


“Sometimes fish affected by scombroid poisoning have a peppery or bubbly taste,” said Dr Deb.


Symptoms of scombroid poisoning generally occur within 30 minutes of toxic fish ingestion, and usually last around four hours.


Dr Deb urges Queenslanders to be aware of the risks associated with travelling overseas.


“There are lots of serious medical pitfalls, like scombroid poisoning, with which travellers are unfamiliar.


That’s why it is so important that travellers seek good, professional travel health advice from a specialist travel doctor before heading overseas.”



Links to Media

ABC News

Herald Sun

Gympie Times


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