A Russian woman, 65, and her 21-year-old son, on holiday in Cyprus, were in critical condition on Thursday after consuming poisonous fish.
The two were rushed to Famagusta hospital, Paralimni, at around 6pm on Wednesday. The man was in comatose condition while his mother had suffered a heart attack.
Doctors managed to resuscitate the woman and they were both transferred to Nicosia general hospital due to the severity of their condition.
She was placed on a ventilator and is said to be in extremely critical condition. Her son was critical but not as bad as his mother.
The case was investigated by police who determined that the two had been poisoned from the consumption of Lagocephalus, a member of the puffer fish family. It contains tetrodotoxin (TTX), a potent neurotoxin that could be lethal. According to the fisheries department, some six species of the fish can be found in the Mediterranean.
A friend told police that the fish were caught by the 21-year-old on Wednesday morning. The two fell ill after eating the fish and the man called his brother in Russia and told him he suspected they had been poisoned by the fish.
The brother then contacted a family friend living in Cyprus who called a private clinic for an ambulance.
In the presence of the friend, Paralimni police searched the house where the two tourists were staying and found one cooked fish, three Lagocephalus heads, as well as a liver and fish eggs.
Named thus for its rabbit-like looks — from the Greek lagos, which means hare, and cephalus, head — the species was native to the Indian and Pacific oceans but it invaded the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal around 13 years ago.
It is considered a delicacy in some countries in Asia, but it is prepared by cooks who know how to safely remove its skin and internal organs containing the poison. Its poison is not degraded or destroyed by cooking.
Following complaints from fishermen over damages to their nets, in 2012 Cyprus introduced a scheme that was aimed to curb the fish’s population.
The scheme, co-funded by the EU’s Operational Programme for Fisheries, aimed to fish for the species during their reproductive season so they could be destroyed.
Fishermen were paid €3 for each kilo caught. According to the fisheries department, the programme is still active.
Efforts had been made to sell the fish caught in Cyprus to Asian countries but that did not work out as they preferred them alive.