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Fugu Poisoning

Overview :

Fugu, also known as puffer fish, blowfish, or globefish, has long been a food delicacy in Japan, but has only been introduced in the United States in the last 30-40 years. The fugu and related species may contain a tetrodotoxin, an extremely potent neurotoxin and one of the most toxic substances known, which produces critical illness and often death. Between January 1 and April 1, 2002, at least 10 cases of fugu poisoning were reported in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. All persons recovered from the poisonings. All of the fish came from the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Titusville, Florida. Fugu caught in southern U.S. waters, such as the Gulf of Mexico, may also be toxic. Tetrodotoxin has been detected in pufferfish throughout the Pacific Ocean and the Baja California coastal region. Cases of fugu poisoning are sporadically diagnosed, but many more are not recognized or reported. The earliest cases reported to the CDC involved poisonings in Florida during the mid-1970s. Since 1950, only three known fatalities have occurred in the United States, all in Florida.

The dangers of puffer fish consumption have long been recognized. Artifacts recovered from an Egyptian tomb indicate that puffer fish poisoning has been known since approximately 2400–2700 B.C. In journals covering expeditions from 1772–1775, Pacific explorer Captain James Cook provided a vivid description of what some believe to be puffer fish poisoning. Fugu are found in waters throughout the world. Scientists have found that toxic fugu have unique exocrine glands for the secretion of tetrodotoxin. The fish appear to actively produce the toxin, rather than passively acquire it from the environment. For these fish, tetrodotoxin may serve as a natural defense mechanism to repel predators. The flesh of the fugu is generally eaten raw in paper-thin slices, known as sashimi. Part of the reported delight in eating fugu is the tingling oral sensation induced by minute amounts of tetrodotoxin in the flesh. For this reason, eating fugu is considered an "experience," rather than just a meal in Japan. The experience is expensive, however, since a plate of this delicacy can cost as much as $500.

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