Skip all navigation Skip to page navigation

DHHS Home | A-Z Site Map | Divisions | About Us | Contacts

NC Department of Health and Human Services
NC Division of Public Health
N.C. Public Health Home
 
 

Diseases & Topics

Scombroid Poisoning

Scombroid poisoning, or histamine poisoning, is caused by eating improperly refrigerated fish.

Symptoms of scombroid poisoning typically include facial flushing, sweating, rash, a burning or peppery taste in the mouth, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Symptoms usually disappear within several hours without medical intervention. More severe symptoms such as respiratory distress, swelling of the tongue and throat, and blurred vision can occur and require medical treatment with antihistamines.

Scombroid poisoning occurs after eating fish with high levels of histamine or other biogenic amines. Histamine is produced when bacteria metabolize naturally occurring histidine in fish. This most often occurs when fish is held at warm or high ambient temperatures for several hours. Rapid chilling of fish immediately after catch is the most effective measure to prevent scombroid fish poisoning.

Fish from the family Scombridae such as tuna and mackerel contain high levels of free histamine in muscle tissue and are the most common sources of scombroid fish poisoning; however, other fish (mahi mahi, amberjack, bluefish, abalone and sardines) also have been implicated. Unlike many bacterial pathogens, histamine is not destroyed when fish are frozen or cooked, making it essential to promptly chill fish after they are caught and to keep them at the correct temperature along all stages of the food supply chain.

For Additional Information