Scromboid poisoning occurs after eating fish that contains high levels of histamine. This occurs when certain fish are improperly preserved, often as a result of inadequate refrigeration. This allows bacteria to overgrow and convert a normally occurring amino acid to histamine. The resulting histamine is heat stable. It will not break down with cooking. The ingestion of fish with excessive histamine will result in the symptoms of scromboid poisoning.
Certain fish are more susceptible to histamine producing bacteria including mahi-mahi, mackerel, sardines; albacore, bluefin, and yellowfin tuna. The affected fish may not smell or taste spoiled.
The symptoms of scromboid poisoning generally occur within minutes to an hour after eating the affected fish. Symptoms may include some or all of the following: rash on face or upper body; hives and itching of skin; throbbing headache; nausea, vomiting, diarrhea; tingling or burning sensation of mouth.
The treatment for scrombroid poisoning is primarily antihistamines. The condition is rarely life-threatening but is more of a concern in individuals with unstable health conditions. Those individuals experiencing more serious conditions should seek immediate medical attention. The only test for the condition is to have the suspected fish analyzed for histamine content.
Authored by Robert Settipane, MD