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Suspected poisoning case linked to Chinese medicinal herb

     The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health today (April 20) urged members of the public not to collect or consume any unknown plants from parks or the countryside as they may be poisonous.

     The call followed CHP's investigation into a suspected poisoning report involving three members of a family, a 53-year-old father, a 54-year-old mother and their 19-year-old son. They developed dizziness, generalised weakness and heaviness of the eyelids one hour after taking broth containing a herb thought to be a Chinese medicinal herb, Cassytha Filiformis, that they collected while hiking in the neighbourhood of Luk Keng on April 12.

     They sought medical treatment at Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital the next day and were admitted to the hospital. The three were discharged on April 14 in stable condition.

     A CHP spokesman said tests of the broth remnants by the Hospital Authority Toxicology Reference Laboratory revealed the presence of gelsemine. The spokesman said herbal medicines containing gelsemine were mainly meant for external use to relieve pain or reduce skin bruises.

     "As Cassytha Filiformis does not contain gelsemine, it is suspected that the family's symptoms could be related to a mix-up or contamination with other plants that grew around the Cassytha Filiformis, such as gelsemium elegans, which contains gelsemine," the spokesman said.

     The spokesman said the CHP was concerned about this kind of poisoning as it could be fatal. The investigation into this case is on-going.

     He reminded members of the public, especially hikers, to refrain from collecting plants, including their fruits, roots and stems, in the countryside as many of them may contain lethal natural toxins.

     "If they feel unwell after taking any Chinese medicinal herbs, they should seek medical advice immediately," the spokesman said.

Ends/Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Issued at HKT 19:23


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