As many as 12 people were forced to seek medical attention after ingesting what officials believe is aconite at a restaurant in Markham, Ontario. on the weekend.
York Region Health Officer, Dr. Barry Pakes, spoke on Tuesday morning about the mass poisoning that occurred at the Delight Restaurant & BBQ on Castlemore Avenue and Markham Road.
Although Pakes could not speak on the condition of the patients, he confirmed that four remain “seriously ill” in intensive care units.
“We suspect it was… aconite,” Peiks said, adding that trials are currently underway to confirm the cause of the adverse reactions.
What is ACONIT?
Aconite is a substance found in the Aconite plant, also known as Monkshood or Wolfsbane, and can be found widely in the Northern Hemisphere, Dr. Pratik Lala, associate director of Applied Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Toronto, told CTV News Toronto Tuesday.
All parts of the plant are toxic, he explained, but the compound aconitine is especially deadly.
“A lethal dose for humans could be as little as two milligrams, or the size of a sesame seed,” Lala said.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF ACONITE POISONING?
Symptoms can vary depending on the amount of the substance ingested and the size of the person who ingested it, Lala said.
“The symptoms that people feel after eating usually start within 30 to 60 minutes, which is much shorter than with normal food poisoning,” he said.
On Monday, Dr. David Jurlink, head of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center, took to social media to alert the public to potential poisoning and what symptoms to look out for.
“Effects come on quickly and mostly [gastrointestinal] neurological and cardiac,” he wrote.
Jurlink warned the public to watch out for nausea, vomiting, cramps, facial and mouth numbness that can spread to limbs, and muscle weakness.
Symptoms in the later stages of aconite poisoning may include low blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias, and coma. If swallowed enough, it can be fatal.
“It doesn’t take much to have a significant effect,” Lala said.
HOW DO YOU TREAT ACONITE POISONING?
According to both doctors, there is no single cure for aconite poisoning.
“Most therapies and treatments for this are supportive,” Lala explained. “There are medications that can be used to maintain heart rate, blood pressure and such, but for the most part it’s a game of watching and waiting to see how things are going.”
Some patients require ventilation to keep breathing while recovering.
Although there is no standard schedule, those who recover from poisoning will do so within a few days, Lala said.
HOW CAN ACONITE GET IN FOOD?
While raw aconite can be fatal and the risk remains high if ingested, Aconite plants have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
When used in traditional Chinese medicine, the toxins in acotine plants can be broken down into less or non-toxic derivatives using Chinese processing methods known as Pao Zhi.
Aconite can also sometimes be mistaken for ginger powder, as the roots of both plants are visually similar.
In March, the British Columbia health authority issued a warning after it was discovered that a shipment of shortcrust ginger powder bought at the Burnaby Mall potentially contained aconite.
Lala stressed that there is currently no information on whether the Markham incident was accidental or intentional.
Anyone who ate at the Delight Restaurant and BBQ on August 27 or 28 and is experiencing any of the above symptoms is advised to seek immediate medical attention.