UK Family Poisoned By World's Second Deadliest Toxin While Cleaning Fish Tank
A lucky mum diced with death after inhaling toxic fumes which were released by the coral in the family fish tank.
Katie Stevenson, 34, had to be put into isolation for 48 hours and have her home sealed off by a Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) after she was poisoned by coral.
Doctors battled to save her from Palytoxin, a chemical released by the living organism when it comes under attack. It causes severe and potentially fatal respiratory distress, for which there is no antidote.
Katie's husband, Mark, and their three daughters also had to be put in a lock-down ward, suffering similar but less severe symptoms, as did the paramedics who took them to hospital from their home in Newport, Telford, Shropshire.
The family were cleaning the fish tank which resulted in it giving off Palytoxin - the second deadliest poison known to man.
Katie began to develop a raging fever less than an hour after she finished scrubbing the coral from an ornamental bridge in their small, 58-litre aquarium.
As she became more breathless and feverish she searched the internet and discovered that coral can release a devastating toxin.
But cases are so rare that at first neither the non-emergency 111 service nor the doctors who treated her believed she was suffering anything more serious than a viral infection.
She said: "I was shaking from head to toe. I had blankets on me and I was freezing. My heart rate had gone sky-high, and my temperature was really high. Later on the doctors told me and Mark that if we'd gone to sleep that night we wouldn't have woken up.
"When I got into bed I couldn't touch myself I was that hot. I thought I was going to die. I've had nightmares ever since and I can't sleep.
"We bought the coral and didn't have a clue - they don't give you any danger leaflets or anything like that. You should be told about the toxins so you can know what you're touching and how to clean it. I didn't have a clue. We've had this fish tank for 12 months and always kept the coral underwater."
The mum-of-three continued: "All sorts of things were going through my mind. My kids could have died. We could have died. I've not slept properly since.
"We had gone on holiday and our fish had died, so we decided to get rid of the tank. We completely emptied the tank and started scrubbing it. When you scrub it, it lets off toxins. The house had to be completely cordoned off by the police and fire brigade.
"About 10 minutes after cleaning the tank, I started to get a really dry cough. I said to Mark 'I have a sore throat coming', he said the same thing. We left it an hour, and I started getting really bad shivers. My temperature went up to 42.5 Celsius."
Katie was the most severely affected, followed by Mark and their three girls Lacey, 11, Taleisha, seven, and Skyla, one. Fourteen-year-old son Cole was staying with a cousin and was unaffected.
When medics realised they were dealing with a case of Palytoxin they sent another ambulance to collect Mark and the three girls, as well as Katie's mother, Tina, who had been to the house. They were all feeling unwell, suffering cramps along with vomiting and diarrhoea.
Katie added: "It was just absolutely petrifying. Our home was cordoned off and had to be deep-cleaned before we were allowed back in (on 2 Aug). They took our keys off us and they let off some sort of smoke bombs to get rid of the toxins."
Katie, who'd never even heard of Palytoxin, is still unable to eat due to an inflamed stomach from the exposure over a week ago and is calling for warning leaflets to be handed out whenever coral is sold. She explained: "People need to know what they're dealing with if they have a marine fish tank.
"Nobody seems to know how dangerous coral can be and we only found out the hard way. They should hand out leaflets when they sell coral, warning of the dangers. It nearly killed us and I don't want people to go through what we went through."
West Midlands Ambulance Service said it was called to a property in Newport, Telford in the early hours of Wednesday (31 July). In a statement they said: "On arrival, an ambulance crew found several patients who were feeling unwell.
"Due to the nature of the circumstances, a second ambulance, two paramedic officers and Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) also attended. Six patients received treatment on scene before being taken to Princess Royal Hospital for further assessment.
"Four ambulance staff were also assessed at hospital as a precaution; two were from this incident and two who had been called to the same property the previous day. All were later discharged."
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