Scombroid poisoning typically occurs when people eat certain fish that have been inadequately preserved. These include the spiny-finned fish of the family known as Scombridae. Bacteria that grow during improper storage in the dark meat of the fish produce scombroid toxin. Scombroid is a histaminelike chemical (see Allergic Reaction). The toxin does not affect everyone who ingests it.
No test is 100% reliable for assessing fish for this toxin. Cooking kills the bacteria, but toxins remain in the tissues and can be eaten.
Susceptible fish include albacore, amberjack, anchovy, Australian salmon, bluefish, bonito, kahawai, herring, mackerel, mahi-mahi, needlefish, saury, sardine, skipjack, wahoo, and yellowfin tuna. Affected fish may have a metallic or peppery taste.
Scombroid Poisoning Symptoms
Symptoms of scombroid poisoning generally begin 1 hour after ingestion of the poison and include nausea, vomiting, flushing, abdominal cramps, diarrhea[link to Diarrhea], and headache.
Other symptoms may include itching, hives, a burning sensation in the mouth, fever, or an unusual heart pounding sensation.
Severe reactions include dropping blood pressure, racing heart, and wheezing.
Scombroid Poisoning Treatment
Induce vomiting if the poisoned person is awake and alert and has eaten the fish within the past 3 hours.
Scombroid poisoning should be treated with diphenhydramine (Benadryl) 25-50 mg every 6 hours and 1 ranitidine (Zantac) tablet twice a day.
When to Seek Medical Care
A severe or prolonged reaction requires medical treatment as soon as possible.
Consult a doctor about treatment with available medications.