A migrant worker from Bihar who was working in Veraval in Gir Somnath has been identified as India’s first confirmed case who was taken ill due to poisoning caused by puffer fish after scientists of Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT) managed to trace source of the poisoning to a puffer fish he had consumed on May 30 last year.
Four migrant workers had cooked and subsequently consumed puffer fish after purchasing them from local market in Veraval on May 30, 2020 and within minutes, CIFT scientist say, they developed symptoms of poisoning. “They were rushed to a hospital in Veraval where one of the four died. After reading about the incident in newspapers, our scientists contacted Prabhas Patan police and the private hospital and collected relevant documents and case history. From the residence of the workers, scientists also collected samples of residue of fish they had eaten. DNA sequencing of the samples collected from the fish residue confirmed it was fish of Arothron stellatus species of puffer family,” Ashish Kumar Jha, scientist in-charge of CIFT, told The Indian Express.
CIFT scientists said that while they have not completed the study of the case of the worker who died, they pursued the case of a 23-year-old man from them and traced the source of his poisoning to the puffer fish he had eaten.
Jha said that that 23-yearold migrant woker complained of giddiness, nauseaa, heaviness of head etc within minutes of consuming the fish which had tetrodotoxin, a neurotoxin which attacks nervous system of humans. He had to be rushed to hospital where he was kept on life support system but he recovered eventually. “This is the first reported confirmed case of poisoning caused due to consumption of puffer fish in India,” the CIFT head further said.
Jha said that the case was studied by Toms Joseph, then scientist in-charge of CIFT, Anupama TK, a scientist of CIFT and others. A research paper based on their research in this case has been recently published in Toxicon, an interdisciplinary journal on toxins derived from plants, animals and microorganisms published by the Netherlands-based publishing firm Elsevier.
“Tetrodotoxin (TTX) found in puffer fish is one of the most potent neurotoxins (Lago et 23 al., 2015). TTX is mostly concentrated in the liver and ovaries of puffer fish and can result in life threatening conditions due to its consumption…This low-molecular-weight biotoxin is believed to be mainly produced by some marine endosymbiotic bacteria, which accumulates through the food web and enter into other organisms, ultimately reaching human being,” a draft of the research paper noted, adding, “This toxin, due to its heat stability, is not destroyed by cooking processes.”
“We obtained some case history of the person who died but have not been able to study the case completely. Therefore, we are not in a position state if the death was caused by the puffer fish poison,” Anupama TK said.
As per the research paper, 11 species of puffer fish occur in Indian coastal waters during monsoon and post-monsoon periods. “They sell at cheap rate in markets and are consumed by people. After this research, we are working to develop an advisory on proper methods of cooking puffer fish,” Jha said, adding in Japan, training institutes run certificate course on cooking puffer fish.