A Britain man is warning pet owners of the potential dangers of a toxic substance excreted by aquarium corals that sickened 10 individuals including family members and responding firefighters. This is not the first case of palytoxin exposure related to aquariums.

Aquarium Cleaning Gone Wrong

Last week, 27-year-old Chris Matthews cleaned out the family aquarium in their home in Steventon, England. In the process, he transferred some of the rocks and other aquarium items onto another container so as to clean them individually. When the cleaning process was finished, he went to bed.

The very next day, Matthews and his family began developing pneumonia-like symptoms which they attributed to the flu. They reportedly could not regulate their body temperatures, and experienced difficulties in breathing and coughing. According to local reports, Matthews, his girlfriend, his parents, his sister and her boyfriend all got sick, as did the family's two dogs.

Fortunately, Matthews realized that the corals might have been the cause of their sickness so he called the local police who responded with a large response team. The house was cordoned off, a hazardous area response team as well as several ambulances surrounded the house, and a fire and rescue team even came to remove the toxic corals from the premises.

All in all, six family members and four firefighters were taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital but were released just hours later.

Palytoxin In Corals

According to Matthews, had he not realized that the corals might be the culprit and spent another night at the house inhaling the toxins, his and his family's lives would have been in serious danger. Evidently, the coral in question was called a pulsing xenia, which Matthews had placed in parts of the aquarium where nothing else could thrive.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Palytoxin is among the most potent coronary vasoconstrictors that can kill animals within minutes by cutting off the oxygen to the cardiac muscles. So far, there is no antidote for palytoxin and available treatments are merely supportive.

Further, there are no evidence-based regulations in place regarding protective equipment use for hobbyists and aquarium shop staff, though it is said the palytoxin may be neutralized by soaking the coral in a household bleach solution for 30 minutes.

In Matthews's case, he has been keeping tropical fish for 12 years so he was already aware of palytoxins when the incident happened. According to him, he was aware of the potential dangers of palytoxin but he was not aware that taking the coral out of the water could make the toxin airborne.

As such, he wants to use his experience to educate people about the risks on palytoxins as well as the measures that people must take to remain safe, especially since the corals that caused his ordeal is actually a pretty common and inexpensive one even if it is often described as "exotic."

Other Palytoxin Cases

Cases of palytoxin exposure were also reported in Anchorage between 2012 and 2014 after individuals fell ill after cleaning out fish tanks. The patients included staff members of an aquarium shop, as well as residents who were simply cleaning out their home aquariums.

They also experienced cough, joint pain, and fever, with one patient experiencing preterm labor, while a dog that simply walked by the aquarium several times while it was being cleaned experienced lethargy and vomiting.

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