Officials with the Alaska Division of Public Health are reported to be looking into a potential botulism cluster in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta area west of Anchorage linked to the consumption of fermented fish heads. After four people shared a traditional Yupik meal of the fish heads, one later died and two others were sickened, said Louisa Castrodale, a health division epidemiologist. The man who died had apparently complained of seeing double and feeling ill, according to a state troopers report.

State officials were testing food samples and samples from the two sickened individuals for the botulinum toxin, with results expected to take about a week, Castrodale said. If the death is confirmed to have been caused by botulism, she said it would be the first such death in Alaska since 2007. Botulism is 836 times more common in Alaska than in the Lower 48, according to a 2011 article, which speculates that the reason stems from today’s use of anaerobic glass and plastic containers to age fish instead of the traditional grass, straw or animal skin bags that were previously used. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls botulism a “rare but serious paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin ….” There are five main kinds of botulism and all forms can be fatal and are considered medical emergencies, CDC says, adding, “Foodborne botulism is a public health emergency because many people can be poisoned by eating a contaminated food.”