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April 16,  2002


(SafetyAlerts) - The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers not to eat puffer fish harvested from the Titusville, Fla., area because these fish may contain a naturally occurring toxin that can cause serious illness or death. Such marine toxins are known to be a byproduct of algae found in seawater. The symptoms of this toxin are predominately neurological: tingling and burning of the mouth and tongue, numbness, drowsiness, and incoherent speech. These symptoms develop fairly rapidly, within 30 minutes to two hours after eating the fish, depending on the amount of toxin consumed. However, in severe cases, respiratory paralysis and even death may occur. This toxin cannot be destroyed by cooking or freezing.

The FDA has recently learned from the New Jersey Department of Health that three New Jersey residents have become ill from eating puffer fish, also known as blowfish or sea squab, harvested near Titusville, Fla. In two situations, patients ate puffer fish caught by a recreational fisher, but the third patient reported buying the puffer fish from a local New Jersey retail fish market. Further investigations with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have revealed that there have been additional reports of similar illnesses in Florida and Virginia.

"It is imperative that consumers not eat puffer fish from the Titusville, Fla. region," said Dr. Lester M. Crawford, FDA Deputy Commissioner. " The FDA continues to work closely with the CDC and the state authorities to protect the public health, but in the meantime anyone who may have eaten puffer fish should be alert to these possible neurological symptoms and seek medical help if it is needed."

Consumers who have symptoms like those described above and suspect that they have consumed puffer fish harvested from the Titusville, Fla. area should contact their physician or local poison control center immediately. Consumers with questions may call the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Center's Outreach and Information Center at 1-888-SAFEFOOD.

The FDA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the states of Florida and New Jersey continue to investigate this situation. In the interim, consumers are advised to avoid consuming puffer fish from the affected area.

Source: FDA

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