Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Rare Disease Traced to Fish Sold in Chicago-Area Grocery

Shoppers who purchased buffalo fish (Ictiobus cyprinellus) sold after January 30th at Fresh Farms International Market, 5740 W. Touhy Ave. in the Chicago suburb of Niles are being warned by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to not eat it, or risk getting Haff disease.
Big Mouth Buffalo Fish - Credit Jim Negus
Haff disease is the development of rhabdomyolysis (swelling and breakdown of skeletal muscle with a risk of acute kidney failure) within 24 hours of ingesting fish. Symptoms include severe muscle pain, stiffness, and brown urine. Typically symptoms will resolve in two to three days and cases are rarely fatal.

Health officials in Cook County and Chicago have reported two people who ate the buffalo fish were seen at hospitals for suspected cases of Haff disease.

First described in 1924, cases were observed in humans, birds, and cats, usually in the summer and fall, and a link was made to fish consumption. In 1997, six cases of Haff disease were reported in California and Missouri, following the consumption of buffalo fish. In July and August 2010, dozens of people contracted Haff disease after eating Procambarus clarkii in Nanjing, China.

Procambarus clarkii - Credit Duloup
In 2011 there was an outbreak reported in Brooklyn, NY when two household members were sickened after eating buffalo fish. Haff disease was last reported in Illinois in 2004.

Interestingly, the nature of the toxin that causes Haff disease is unclear. While cooking food to the proper temperature will kill bacteria, cooking will not eliminate this toxin, and the fish will still be unsafe for eating. 

Possibilities for the toxin include a hexane-soluble (non-polar lipid) substance that induced similar symptoms in mice, palytoxin, or a toxin with thiaminase activity.

Lance D. Presser has a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology and currently is a Public Health Laboratorian.

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Lance as a consultant using Zintro.

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