Scombroid (histamine) poisoning

Scombroid (Histamine) Poisoning is a build up of toxins that occur when Scombroid fish have not been chilled adequately. When this occurs the fish produces histamine which can be toxic to humans.

What is scombroid (histamine) poisoning?

A type of food poisoning that results from eating foods (usually fish) containing high levels of histamine.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms are tingling and burning around the mouth, facial flushing and diarrhoea. Other symptoms may include a skin rash, localised skin irritation (particularly around the mouth), nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, dizziness, palpitations, headache and possibly respiratory distress.

Symptoms may last for up to 12 hours and there are no long-term effects.

What causes Scombroid poisoning?

It is caused by a build up of histamine in certain types of fish known as the scombroid fish. These fish all have the amino acid (histidine) present. After being caught bacteria within the fish begin to convert histidine into histamine. This can occur rapidly if fish is not chilled properly after being caught.

Freezing or cooking the fish once it has been contaminated will not kill the toxin and prevent illness. In rare circumstances histamine poisoning has also been associated with cheese.

What are scombroid fish?

Scombroid fish include kahawai, mackerel, tuna, bonito and butterfly kingfish. Other fish species that are associated with scombroid poisoning include sardines, pilchards, salmon, anchovies, herring and marlin.

Who does it affect?

All consumers are at risk particularly those who eat the types of scombroid fish mentioned.

Can the symptoms be treated?

Yes, in serious cases the symptoms may be treated with antihistamines. If you think you have scombroid poisoning see your doctor.

What else can be done about it?

If you believe foods you have bought have caused histamine poisoning contact a Health Protection Officer at the public health unit at your local District Health Board. An investigation may occur which could prevent other people becoming ill.