Ministry reacts to Fiji's palolo death report

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (M.A.F.) will get more information on the recent death of a man in Fiji after he consumed the seasonal sea worm delicacy palolo.

M.A.F. Fisheries Division Assistant Chief Executive Officer, Magele Eteuati Ropati, told the Samoa Observer that for now there is no need for citizens to be alarmed.

He said the facts of the case connected to the fatality needs to be established before any action can be taken.

“No [deaths from palolo in Samoa], as we need to get the facts surrounding the case in Fiji,” he said in an email response to questions sent by the Samoa Observer.

Suva-based Fiji Live reported that a man in Savusavu died after eating the rare delicacy, which is called “balolo” in the Fijian islands.

Fiji’s Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) media liaison officer, Sunil Chandra, told the Samoa Observer that they are yet to receive a medical report to confirm the cause of death of the man in Savusavu, Fiji.

He said currently the local authorities are investigating the man’s death and have asked the public to check the worms after they are harvested from the ocean before consumption. 

“This [the death] was the week before last or something. No, [we do not know what caused his death] we have to make tests and things like that,” he said. 

“But we are aware that balolo comes at this time of the year, and it has been found out in the previous years that sometimes there are some toxic substances present in the balolo, which when consumed will harm people. 

“That has been ongoing for a number of years now. When there is a case, we look out for the case and then we investigate and then come back to it. 

“So in this case, I haven’t received so much because we don’t treat it as that – we have advised people to check before they consume balolo.”

The toxic substance that Mr Chandra made reference to can be found in some coral polyps, which he said can become poisonous. 

As an example, he said during the months of November and December, there are risks of fish poisoning as coral polyps bloom out of the coral and can be lethal when consumed.

“What happens is that at this time coral polyps they bloom out of the coral and some of them are poisonous,” he added. 

“At certain times the corals are poisonous and these fish, they are the number one fish the salmon cod, they eat those polyps and then the poison is transferred into them.

“And then when people consume it, it is transferred to the people so we at the Ministry of Health have time and again issued warnings on those times which are now. 

“During November and December, please bear with eating the salmon cod fish…these are the fish that are very much in demand and some people say they are tastiest fish around.”

It is the same for balolo which Mr Chandra says is a delicacy in Fiji and people can consume them straight after catching them.

“They are eating it straight away. That is one problem. How can you trust something that is floating on water? And you are sure that it is toxic free?" he said.

“We have to tell people that you don’t have to take anything out of the sea and start eating. That is one thing we issue from our end but then you have people there who don’t follow things. 

“No matter how many times you tell them, they will do the same thing.”

Emphasising that the public has been urged to take extra caution, Mr Chandra said Fiji's M.O.H. will get more information from doctors and environment health officers in Savusavu on the death.

According to Fiji Live, a Savusavu man was rushed to the hospital after developing an allergic reaction from the consumption of the sea worms.

A staff member at Savusavu Hospital told Fiji Live that the man was brought in by his wife after he could not stop vomiting. The man has a history of asthma and an allergic reaction made his condition more severe as it affected his breathing.

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