Buffalo fish can cause rare illness
by Rory Doyle
Jul 23, 2013 | 1009 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Mississippi State Department of Health recently confirmed three newly diagnosed cases of Haff disease, a rare but serious illness caused by an unidentified toxin in buffalo fish that can cause a condition called rhabdomyolysis.

Rhabdomyolysis is a muscle injury syndrome that causes pain, stiffness and rarely, kidney damage.

The three Mississippi cases are members of one family and are linked to the consumption of cooked buffalo fish harvested in Mississippi waters.

According to an Associated Press story, the MSDH confirmed the toxin was found in buffalo fish that were caught on the Yazoo River.

While these are Mississippi's first recorded cases, Haff disease has previously been associated with the consumption of buffalo fish in the United States.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Thomas Dobbs said the MSDH felt obligated to announce the cases to help keep citizens cognizant.

"We do want people to be informed about Haff disease but the public should also know that it's exceedingly rare," said Dobbs. "Millions of pounds of buffalo fish are consumed each year."

Dobbs said the family members are doing fine and have recovered from the scare.

"For the most part, people haven't been very concerned about the issue," he said. "There have been some questions about it, but everyone's been pretty calm and understands the situation."

Since 1984, approximately 30 sporadic cases have been reported. Most cases occur in the summer months.

So far, there have been no reported deaths linked to the disease in Mississippi or the U.S.

Symptoms, which typically occur within 12 hours of consuming the fish, include muscle weakness and pain, dry mouth, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, confusion and dark urine.

Intravenous fluids and other treatments can help resolve symptoms. Severe symptoms typically resolve quickly although some patients complain of fatigue for months following acute stages of the illness.

Cooking buffalo fish does not reduce the risk of disease.

Many Mississippians consume buffalo fish on a routine basis without illness. However, individuals who develop the above symptoms after the consumption of buffalo fish harvested in the state or nearby waters (either caught or purchased at a retail establishment or restaurant) should seek immediate medical care.

According to a 1998 article by the Center for Disease Control, in 1997 alone, there were six cases of Haff disease in the United States among people who ate buffalo fish. Four cases were identified in California and two in Missouri.

A study published in April 2000 by the CDC said Haff disease was first identified in 1924 near the Königsberger Haff shores along the Baltic Coast where physicians recognized an outbreak of an illness that was characterized by sudden, severe muscular rigidity.

In the nine years that followed, similar outbreaks mostly occurring in the summer and fall, affected an estimated 1,000 people along the coast of the Königsberger Haff.

The species of fish that were commonly eaten by those affected along that coast were burbot, eel and pike.

Follow MSDH by e-mail and social media at HealthyMS.com/connect.