Hong Kong health officials are investigating a suspected case of puffer fish poisoning in a 67-year-old man. The patient developed dizziness, paraesthesia, peri-oral and finger numbness, nausea and vomiting about three hours after consuming a dried puffer fish for dinner at home on August 19.

Puffer fish Public domain photo/Jh12 via wikimedia commons
Puffer fish
Public domain photo/Jh12 via wikimedia commons

He attended the Accident and Emergency Department of the United Christian Hospital on August 20 and no hospitalization was required. He is currently in stable condition.

Initial inquiries by the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) revealed that the dried puffer fish was bought from a temporary stall in Ngau Tau Kok.

Puffer fish poisoning, or tetrodotoxication is an acute and potentially life threatening illness after eating puffer fish, or fugu. The mortality rate of this type of food poisoning is around 60%.

Tetrodotoxin is a heat-stable toxin that is concentrated in the liver, intestines and ovaries of the fish. According to the Ishikawa health service association, tetrodotoxin is nearly 100 times more poisonous than potassium cyanide.

Symptoms usually begin within an hour or so after ingesting the fish. Symptoms include lethargy, weakness, numbness of the face, lips and extremities, a floating sensation and emesis. These early symptoms are usually quickly followed by flacid paralysis and respiratory failure.

Patients that survive require respiratory support and fully recover within 48 hours.

Tetraodotoxin is also found in salamanders, newts and other types of animals.

The CHP of the Department of Health remind the public not to consume puffer fish.