The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that on June 13, 2014, two patients went to the Hennepin County Medical Center Emergency Department in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with symptoms suggestive of tetrodotoxin poisoning (i.e., oral paresthesias, weakness, and dyspnea) after consuming dried puffer fish (also known as globefish) purchased during a recent visit to New York City.
The patients said two friends who consumed the same fish had similar, although less pronounced, symptoms and had not sought care. The Minnesota Department of Health conducted an investigation to determine the source of the product and samples were sent to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition for chemical and genetic analysis.
Genetic analysis identified the product as puffer fish (Lagocephalus lunaris) and chemical analysis determined it was contaminated with high levels of tetrodotoxin. A traceback investigation was unable to determine the original source of the product. Tetrodotoxin is a deadly, potent poison; the minimum lethal dose in an adult human is estimated to be 2–3 mg (1). Tetrodotoxin is a heat-stable and acid-stable, nonprotein, alkaloid toxin found in many species of the fish family Tetraodontidae (puffer fish) as well as in certain gobies, amphibians, invertebrates, and the blue-ringed octopus (2). Tetrodotoxin exerts its effects by blocking voltage-activated sodium channels, terminating nerve conduction and muscle action potentials, leading to progressive paralysis and, in extreme cases, to death from respiratory failure. Because these fish were reportedly purchased in the United States, they pose a substantial U.S. public health hazard given the potency of the toxin and the high levels of toxin found in the fish.