Scombroid food poisoning–which is believed to have killed Queensland mother Noelene Bischoff, 54, and her daughter Yvana, 14, in Bali last month–is common, but it is rarely lethal.
Scombroid poisoning is a type of fish poisoning that is caused by bacteria in spoiled finfish such as tuna, mackeral, and bonito.
“As bacteria break down fish proteins, byproducts such as histamine and other substances that block histamine breakdown build up in fish. Eating spoiled fish that have high levels of these histamines can cause in human disease,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Symptoms begin within 2 minutes to 2 hours after eating the fish.
However, while the agency says that scombroid is one of the most common fish poisonings, it says that treatment is generally unnecessary because it is usually not lethal. Symptoms include rashes, diarrhea, and headaches.
Jennie Musto, manager of enterics at NSW Health, said there have been only seven reported outbreaks of scombroid poisoning in NSW since 2005.
At the same time, she told the Sydney Morning Herald that there are probably far more cases than reported, but most people don’t report the disease.
“Most people with scombroid probably have very mild symptoms, so wouldn’t present to a medical centre or emergency,” she said.
She’s never heard of anyone dying from the disease in Australia.
It typically happens when fish aren’t refrigerated properly.
“The spoilage of the fish happens straight after the fish has been caught if it’s not refrigerated properly,” Musto said.
“It’s more common when fish is caught by recreational fishermen or when refrigeration isn’t available.”
Malcolm Bischoff, Noelene’s brother, said that further testing will take place but that the cause of death is likely the disease.