Nine Dead and 78 Hospitalized After Eating Sea Turtle Meat

9 DEAD, 78 Hospitalized - It's a MYSTERY

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A puzzling case of foodborne illness has affected more than 80 individuals in West Africa. These individuals consumed sea turtle, a delicacy in the region that, unfortunately, can also be hazardous. Despite efforts by scientists, the reasons behind the occasional toxicity of turtle meat remain unclear. Their primary aspiration is for a reduction in consumption of these endangered creatures, which could potentially mitigate the instances of poisoning.

Health officials in Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous archipelago situated near the coast of Tanzania in West Africa, announced on March 9 that nine individuals had succumbed to illness on Pemba Island, with an additional 78 individuals hospitalized. Dr. Haji Makari, a medical officer, informed the press that all affected individuals had consumed sea turtle meat on March 5. By March 8, the fatalities included eight children and one adult.

Sea turtle meat holds a significant appeal as a delicacy in Tanzania and neighboring nations. However, there are two notable issues associated with its consumption. Firstly, among the seven species of sea turtles, six are currently classified as endangered, and harvesting them for meat exacerbates the threats to their dwindling populations. Secondly, consuming sea turtles can be likened to a game of chance, akin to playing Russian roulette.

Consuming sea turtle meat is generally considered safe, but there are exceptions. Occasionally, individuals may experience a rare and unpredictable form of food poisoning called chelonitoxism. This condition can affect turtles in various regions, including the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, essentially wherever sea turtles inhabit.

Researchers are puzzled by the occasional toxicity of turtle meat; despite laboratory examinations showing no presence of toxins in affected samples, feeding these samples to test animals proves fatal. In humans, symptoms of poisoning comprise abdominal discomfort, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and liver failure, with children being especially susceptible.

As of now, there exists no remedy for chelonitoxism, leaving medical professionals with the task of symptom management and reliance on the patient’s recovery. Hamza Hassan Juma, a disaster management specialist from Zanzibar leading a team dispatched to Pemba following the recent outbreak, emphasizes that the resolution lies in urging individuals to abstain from consuming turtles.

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