Three people died and more than 100 others became seriously ill after eating a Logger Head sea turtle that was fished from the Gulf of Thailand, health officials said Sunday.
Meas Hap, 7, Serng Hern, 35, and Mao Youn, 8, died on Friday, Health Department Technical Official Chief Choup Vutha said.
Villagers from Koh Rong commune, Mittapheap district, were fishing when they found a dead turtle and carried it back to the village.
A recent storm had prevented villagers from fishing the sea, making the dead turtle a welcome surprise. The turtle, weighing more than 40 kg, was divided amongst residents of the Derm Tkov village to eat.
“People came late to the hospital, since they are used to eating turtle. They didn’t think the sickness was caused by the turtle. That’s why they died,” Choup Butha said.
Around 140 people checked into Charm Kachek Hospital in downtown Sihanoukville for treatment. They were released and are recovering, Choup Vutha said. He suggested that the turtle could have become poisonous after eating jelly fish or poisonous plants.
People normally are not allowed to eat turtles during December. The reptiles lay their eggs throughout the month, becoming abnormally voracious.
“The turtles are very hungry, so they eat everything,” said Keav Bunsany, director of the Health Department.
Villagers first became sick on Friday and Saturday, suffering from vomiting, burning mouths, and, later, fatigue.
Keav Bunsany said he didn’t know what toxin poisoned the villagers but said that the three who died could have eaten the turtle’s stomach.
Doctors complained of a burning sensation when they handled the turtle’s remains, which still are poisonous, Keav Bunsany said. Samples of the turtle were sent to the Ministry of Health to undergo tests.
“We want to find out what kind of toxin it was in advance, so that in the future when cases like this happen, we can easily treat the people,” Keav Bunsany said.