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Toxic Aquarium Coral That Releases Airborne Poison Nearly Kills Texas Family

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A woman is warning others about the potential dangers of fish tanks after an aquarium coral nearly killed her and her family.

Chasity Ahman, from Cedar Park, Texas, is nonetheless thankful she and her family are still alive to share the dangers of the "pretty" coral in her saltwater aquarium.

Palythoa

The coral known as palythoa can be bought anywhere saltwater fish are sold and these corals are among the prettiest creatures featuring the most vibrant colors in home aquarium.

Unfortunately, palythoa and other coral formations called zoanthids release a toxin called palytoxin when they are brushed up against in the wild. The toxin is also released when aquarium owners brush the corals with a toothbrush, which is what happened in Ahman's case. The poison then becomes airborne, which can make people sick.

Ahman related that she was cleaning the fish tank on Thursday when she noticed coral growing on a rock. She also found a chunk of algae on the coral so she decided to scrape it off with a toothbrush. Within a few hours, her family began to experience bad cough, burning nose, and high fever.

Five of the fish in the aquarium died but Ahman and her family were well after spending nearly two days in the hospital.

Sometimes, a full-on toothbrush isn't needed to cause the corals to release the toxin. In another case of coral poisoning reported earlier this week, a man in Canada was transferring some Australian Zoanthid coral from one aquarium to another when the poisonous mist was released into the air. His entire family of seven was so sickened and everyone was hospitalized.

Palytoxin

Palytoxin is considered as the second deadliest poison in the natural world. Although some zoanthid species that researchers tested were not toxic and did not cause any problem when handled, those that contain palytoxin are deadly even if only a small amount of the poison gets on the skin.

In a 2011 study, Jonathan Deeds, from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and colleagues bought 15 colonies of zoanthids from three aquarium stores in the Washington DC area and yielded poison from three of the samples. The toxin they collected was enough to kill 300 mice, or about 80 people.

"Even though our typical sample size for zoanthids collected in this study was small (0.2-0.8 g/sample), we calculate that we extracted enough crude toxin from these combined samples to kill 300,000 mice (approx. 2 mg crude toxin calculated by HPLC, standard mouse size of 20 g)." Deeds and colleagues reported in a study published in the journal PLOS One.

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