Seven people have died and three people are left hospitalized after eating poisonous turtle meat on Tanzania's Pemba Island.
Alongside those severely affected, there were a further 38 people admitted to hospital after trying the meat on Thursday of last week, who have since been released, reports the BBC.
While it is confirmed to be food poisoning, the exact cause is unknown and samples of the turtle flesh are being sent to the authorities for testing.
Turtle meat is usually consumed as a delicacy in local areas along the coast of Tanzania and on the island of Zanzibar, but on rare occasions can cause a serious form of food poisoning called chelonitoxism. Chelonitoxism involves symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, and difficulty swallowing, alongside devastating impacts on the liver, with autopsies showing hemorrhaging and necrosis of liver tissue. There is no known antidote for chelonitoxism, and full recovery can take weeks.
The cause of chelonitoxism is uncertain. It is thought to originate from the turtles feeding on toxic algae, which accumulates in the body of the turtle to poisonous levels. A past study has suggested chelonitoxin may exhibit neurotoxic effects, causing degeneration of neurons and resulting in damage to a multitude of organs in severely affected patients, which may explain why treatment is so difficult.
In a Twitter statement, Zanzibar president Dr Hussein Ali Mwinyi offered condolences to those that lost a loved one.
“I offer my condolences to the families of the deceased who ate the turtle suspected to be poisonous in Msuka Taponi village, Micheweni District, Pemba. I ask the families of the deceased to be patient during this difficult time of tragedy,” he wrote.