Hospital warns of increased seafood poisoning cases

Cape Town - 190101 - Tygerberg Hospital is a tertiary hospital located in Parow, Cape Town. The hospital was officially opened in 1976 and is the largest hospital in the Western Cape and the second largest hospital in South Africa. It acts as a teaching hospital in conjunction with the University of Stellenbosch's Health Science Faculty. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Tygerberg Hospital has warned of a growing number of seafood-poisoning cases during autumn.

Previously, there had been a rise in these cases between March and May, according to a study by the hospital’s poisons information centre, said hospital spokeswoman Laticia Pienar.

It could be due to the red tides of late summer and autumn and the tradition of serving pickled fish on Good Friday, she said.

“The increase in demand for fish during this period could relate to a break in the cold chain from vendors, and improper refrigeration on the user’s side,” Ms Pienaar said.

Symptoms included hot and blotchy skin, diarrhoea, palpitations, headache, vomiting and stomach cramps.

A tingling sensation around the mouth and in the legs and a scratchy feeling in the throat might occur in up to 20% to 40% of patients. Initially, a peppery taste might be experienced.

Patients with a history of asthma or allergies could experience difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.

Because many of the symptoms resembled those of a food allergy, patients were often incorrectly told they had a “seafood allergy”, Ms Pienaar said.

Toxins that caused seafood poisoning were not destroyed by normal cooking.

Ms Pienaar warned that respiratory failure was a serious complication of paralytic shellfish poisoning and death could follow within 24 hours of ingestion. Symptoms included dizziness, headache and prickly sensation in the fingers and toes.

Diarrhetic shellfish poisoning – the other form of shellfish poisoning the hospital’s poison information centre sees – could lead to severe gastroenteritis and fluid loss. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach pain within four hours of eating.

Contact the Western Cape Poison Information Helpline at 0861 555 777 for more information.