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Couple Lucky to Be Alive After Eating Deadly Fish Given to Them as Gift

Couple Lucky to Be Alive After Eating Deadly Fish Given to Them as Gift

May 14, 2009

Natural Sciences

Days after falling into near-fatal comas, an Israeli couple is lucky to be alive after they ate a deadly strain of fish.

The 47-year-olds, immigrants from Russia and Ukraine, were admitted to a hospital in northern Israel on Saturday in comatose states after preparing and eating fried blowfish. They regained consciousness in the ICU Monday.

“From what they have been able to tell us,” Rambam Hospital spokesman David Ratner said, “a neighbor gave them the fish as a gift. They didn’t know what it was; they fried it up for dinner and ate it. “

Shortly after, both started to feel dizzy. The man collapsed and his female partner crawled feebly to the front door to summon a neighbor for help before passing out. The neighbor phoned an ambulance.

“When the ambulance got there they could barely breathe and needed oxygen. By the time they arrived at the hospital, both were unconscious and had been intubated,” Ratner said.

Blowfish, also referred to as puffers, balloon fish, toadies and bubble fish, are the second most poisonous vertebrate in the world after the golden poison frog.

The fish’s skin and certain internal organs are highly toxic to humans; touching or ingesting them leads to muscle paralysis and can result in an excruciatingly slow and painful death.

“Blowfish contain a cocktail of neuro-toxins that are very potent and basically halt neurotransmission. If a person eats the fish, there is paralysis then possibly a heart attack and the heart can stop beating altogether and there’s brain damage and death,” Ben Gurion University marine biologist Dr. Nadav Shashar said.

The fish is considered a delicacy in Japan and Korea. “But they know how to prepare it,” said Shashar.

Hospital staff was unaware of the cause of illness when the two were admitted, as both were unconscious. But symptoms suggested poisoning, and a police visit to the house — including a peek in the fridge — confirmed ICU staff suspicions.

“This is the fourth time in three years we’ve had people come in sick or unconscious from eating blowfish,” Ratner shared. Eight months ago one of those patients died. Ratner says this couple is also lucky. “They were saved by timing. If the woman had also passed out, they wouldn’t have made it.”

Both are conscious and recovering, albeit slightly hazy and confused. Physicians expect a full recovery for both.

“The basic rule of thumb is simple: Don’t stick things in your mouth if you don’t know what they are,” Dr. Shashar concluded. “Other predators don’t even go for this fish, so why would a human?”

Read about Dr. Shashar’s work to save the Red Sea’s coral reef.