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4 dead, 5 hospitalized after eating puffer fish

() - February 12, 2007 - 12:00am
Four died while five others, including an 8-year-old boy, were hospitalized after eating puffer fish at sitio Romblon in barangay Malbago, Madridejos Friday night.

Town police investigators said that the group of eight were having drinks by the shore at about 4 p.m. when a fellow fisherman, Rafael Rosales, set ashore with about three kilos of puffer fish, locally known as "ticong", he caught from the sea.

Duty desk officer PO2 Wilfredo Bonado told The Freeman that Rosales left his catch with the group, who decided to cook the fish for their side dish or "pulutan" while drinking.

About three hours after, all of them along with the boy who joined them in eating the dish complained of dizziness and went home. Shortly after, they were taken to the Bantayan District Hospital except for 28-year-old Mario Villacarlos who died in his house.

The three other fatalities were Bievenido Maru, 55, who was declared dead on arrival at the hospital; and Arnel Fuentes, 35, and Romel Alolor, 25, who died later while in confinement.

Those who were confined at the hospital until now are Salvador Alolor, 53, and the Ramirez couple Antonio, 60 and Delia, 53. A fourth one, Felicisimo Espina, 59, was transferred by his relatives to a hospital in Cebu City.

A hospital nurse, Levi Negapatan, yesterday said the victims started to arrive at the hospital at past 8 p.m., and the condition of the three confined victims has already stabilized. They are now in safe condition, she said.

PO2 Bonado said it was not the first time that the residents have eaten puffer fish but it could not be determined if there would be somebody who could be held liable.

The residents however insisted that it was the puffer fish that poisoned the nine victims, saying that the fish might not have been properly cleaned and rid of its toxins.

A certain Wilfredo Macoy cleaned the fish then Delia Ramirez cooked them. Ramirez became one of the victims but the last one to enter the hospital.

Macoy told the police that after cleaning the fish he went home to sleep because he was so drunk already at the time. He added that he told the group to wake him up when the fish is already cooked so he could join them. They failed to wake him however when the dish was ready.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources-7 that same day reminded the public on its memorandum issued last year that permanently banned the selling and eating of puffer fish and goby fish because they contain toxins.

BFAR Fisheries Department Division chief Protacia Sayson said that certain species of goby fish (Gobious criniger), locally known as "bunog", and species of puffer fish (Lagocephalus lunaris and Lagocephalus lagocephalus), also known as "botete" or "tinga-tinga", contains tetrodotoxin.

These fish species should be avoided because there is no antidote to tetrodotoxin, which when ingested is a potent neurotoxin that blocks voltage-gated sodium channels of the nerve membranes, causing death, said Sayson.

Tetrodotoxin from a medium-sized puffer fish could kill 30 people. Onset of symptoms is usually rapid, within five to 30 minutes, but can be up to four hours, while 60 percent of cases die within six hours. Symptoms of goby and puffer fish poisoning includes sweating, nausea, numbness of the tongue, difficulty in speaking and walking, paralysis, mental faculties impairment, and a drop in blood pressure. - Jasmin R. Uy and Norvie S. Misa

ARNEL FUENTES BANTAYAN DISTRICT HOSPITAL BIEVENIDO MARU BUREAU OF FISHERIES AND AQUATIC RESOURCES CEBU CITY DELIA RAMIREZ FELICISIMO ESPINA FISH FISHERIES DEPARTMENT DIVISION PUFFER
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