Saturday, March 29, 2008

Honey poisoning could be linked to seizures

At least nine people have become severely ill from eating toxic Coromandel honey as health authorities attempt to contain the problem.

Five more cases were reported yesterday, including a Palmerston North draughtsman whose livelihood has been affected after a series of seizures and continuous vomiting.

Doctors banned the 43-year-old from driving for a year till epilepsy can be ruled out as the cause of the seizures. Blood, urine and CT tests at the hospital were inconclusive.

The producer of the contaminated honey - A Taste of Whangamata Pure Honey - has been identified as Kevin Prout, a hobby beekeeper who has run Projen Apiary in Whangamata for about five months. His honey, which was sold at three Whangamata retailers, has been recalled.

The Palmerston North man contacted the Waikato District Health Board after hearing reports of four people who suffered effects from consuming toxic honey, produced as a result of bees feeding on honeydew containing poison from native tutu bushes.

Wellington mother Jo Whittle, her three-year-old son Daniel Fox and her sister's partner, English tourist Joseph Reynolds, were all treated in hospital last week.

Hamilton woman Judy Hall, 70, also became violently ill.

Waikato District Health Board spokeswoman Mary Anne Gill said that the Palmerston North man was admitted to hospital last month after eating half a pot of the honey his mother bought from Whangamata. He became sick again last Sunday.

His 45-year-old brother, a fitter and turner from Rotorua, also ate the honey and became unwell.
Vaughan van Rensburg, 36, the principal of Opoutere School near Whangamata, went to Waikato Hospital last week suffering violent seizures after eating comb honey. His mother-in-law from Christchurch, who was holidaying in Whangamata, was admitted to Thames Hospital with mild seizures. Her husband also felt sick.

The Food Safety Authority does not know how much honey had been sold through the three outlets.
Spokeswoman Trish Pearce said Mr Prout would be interviewed today.

He had been asked to provide a catalogue of his stock and where it has been distributed during the past six months.

The agency says honey should not be collected for eating in Coromandel, Bay of Plenty and Marlborough in autumn because of the danger of poisoning from bees visiting tutu bushes.
Coromandel, eastern Bay of Plenty and the Marlborough Sounds are areas where conditions favour the production of toxic honey.

These include concentrations of numerous tutu bushes, high numbers of vine hoppers and hot dry weather to allow the honeydew to build up on the tutu.

Conditions this year were particularly suitable for toxin production.


The only areas where the toxin can get into honey are Coromandel Peninsula, eastern Bay of Plenty and Marlborough Sounds, from January till April.

Beekeepers are required to remove hives before the danger period or monitor the tutu plant, vine hopper and foraging conditions. Honey becomes toxic when bees gather vine hopper honeydew from tutu.

Exporters must complete a declaration stating when hives produced honey.

Honey is not tested, and small producers who sell locally do not have to sign the declaration.
The Beekeepers Association is calling for a review of current rules.

The last case of commercial honey poisoning was in 1974.


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