Ten people were sick and one died in China this past year after eating a toxic plant.

The food poisoning was caused by the wild plant Anisodus tanguticus, which contains tropane alkaloids.

The outbreak occurred in a remote village on the Tibetan Plateau, according to a study published in China CDC Weekly.

Patients included nine males and one female aged 27 to 57 years old. They were migrant workers for a construction company in Henan Province involved in road maintenance. They lived in three tents around the work site on a temporary basis.

In mid-July 2021, 30 minutes after dinner, the first person came down with fatigue, dizziness, and nausea. Another nine workers had similar symptoms, and only one had no signs of illness. All patients were sent to a hospital.

Four patients had severe neurotoxic symptoms with unconsciousness and dilated pupils, and the other six had dizziness, fatigue, nausea, blurred vision, irritability, and tachycardia. Clinical presentation resembled atropine poisoning, which indicated it was caused by atropine-containing plants.

A 49-year-old man died but the other patients were discharged from the hospital later in July.

Finding the source
An investigation showed that 10 male migrant workers lived in two tents, while another tent was the kitchen and living room of the female migrant worker, who was a chef; their living and sanitary conditions were poor.

All vegetables and ingredients were purchased in Maqin County every two days. The only difference in the dinner was the excess consumption of cold wild vegetables. All patients had the cold dish, while the worker who was unaffected did not eat it. 

Wild vegetables were picked by three workers, from near the construction site. Approximately 1 kilogram was blanched by the chef, and a cold dish was prepared.

Health officials took pictures and videos of the wild vegetables and experts said the plant belonged to the Anisodus genus. Plant specimens were collected in the field and identified as Anisodus tanguticus.

The remainder of the dinner and plants were collected to screen and confirm the toxicants. Tropane alkaloids, atropine, anisodamine, scopolamine, and anisodine, were present in the wild vegetable plant and the cold dish.

“This outbreak indicated that eating Anisodus tanguticus by mistake as a wild vegetable might cause severe public health problems, and the public should be alerted and educated to avoid poisoning incidents,” said researchers.

“With the rapid development in China, many people working in different locations may be exposed to a different environment; thus, the possibility of harvesting and ingesting wild poisonous plants have significantly increased.”

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