The hidden dangers of consuming sea turtle meat: a deadly outbreak in Tanzania

After the recent case of mass poisoning, which caused the death of nine people, the dangers associated with the consumption of sea turtle meat are back in the spotlight

In recent days, a tragic mass poisoning occurred on the island of Panza, part of the Tanzanian archipelago, claiming the lives of nine individuals – eight children and one woman – while roughly eighty others have been hospitalized.

All victims had partaken in a meal that included sea turtle meat, a delicacy revered in various parts of the globe, particularly in Central and South America, Southeast Asia, Pacific Islands, and some regions of Africa.

The consumption of sea turtle meat is often linked to the risk of chelonitoxism, a form of food poisoning likely caused by toxic algae consumed by the turtles.

Sea turtles feed on algae, some of which may be contaminated by chelonitoxins, accumulating in tissues (mainly the liver and kidneys), yet causing no harm to the animal itself.

The issue arises when humans kill these turtles and consume the meat tainted with these extremely dangerous toxins, which can be fatal to our bodies.

Symptoms and treatment

The symptoms of chelonitoxism can range in severity, depending also on the level of meat contamination or the amount consumed. Milder symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fever

In severe cases, chelonitoxism can lead to dire consequences such as:

  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Respiratory failure
  • Organ damage
  • Death

Unfortunately, there is currently no antidote for this poisoning. Recovery can be prolonged (lasting several weeks) and may not always be without lasting effects on the victims.

The only way to prevent chelonitoxism is to avoid consuming sea turtle meat. In many countries, it is illegal to capture and sell sea turtles for human consumption, yet this product remains widespread and consumed in various parts of the world.

The article draws upon studies published and recommendations from international institutions and/or experts. We do not make claims in the medical-scientific field and report the facts as they are. Sources are indicated at the end of each article.
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