Case series: inhaled coral vapor--toxicity in a tank

J Med Toxicol. 2013 Sep;9(3):282-6. doi: 10.1007/s13181-013-0307-x.


Introduction: Palytoxin (PTX) is considered a severe marine toxin. Although rare, reports of human exposure from consumption of PTX have described significant morbidity and mortality. PTX is the suspected agent in Haff disease, in which rhabdomyolysis occurs within 24 h of eating contaminated fish such as buffalo fish. PTX is primarily present in soft corals or in dinoflagellates, and it can contaminate crustaceans and other fish as it bioaccumulates up the food chain. Only 23 cases have been reported in the USA, including two recent cases in New York City. Reports of inhalational exposure to PTX are uncommon.

Case reports: We describe a case series of six patients, including four adults and two children, with inhalational exposure to PTX aerosolized from Palythoa corals. Their symptoms included some degree of respiratory involvement, myalgias, paresthesias, low-grade fevers, and gastrointestinal symptoms. Fortunately, there were no serious outcomes and all patients survived without sequelae.

Discussion: Although rare, exposure to palytoxin is not restricted to people visiting marine environments because of Palythoa coral in some home aquariums. Routes of exposure go beyond consumption of fish that feed on the coral and include dermal as well as inhalational exposure. Palytoxin exposure should be considered in the differential diagnosis of patients who own or work with fish tanks and present with symptoms that include respiratory complaints, myalgias, neuromuscular dysfunction, hemolysis, and cardiac toxicity. There is no known antidotal therapy and treatment should focus on meticulous supportive care.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Acrylamides / administration & dosage
  • Acrylamides / toxicity*
  • Adult
  • Aerosols
  • Animals
  • Anthozoa / growth & development
  • Anthozoa / metabolism*
  • Aquaculture
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cnidarian Venoms / administration & dosage
  • Cnidarian Venoms / metabolism
  • Cnidarian Venoms / toxicity*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Family Health
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Inhalation Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New York City
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced
  • Occupational Diseases / diagnosis
  • Occupational Diseases / therapy
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Pets / growth & development
  • Pets / metabolism*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Acrylamides
  • Aerosols
  • Cnidarian Venoms
  • palytoxin