A 61-year-old resident of Hong Kong was being treated for a rare case of mad honey poisoning after eating honey from Nepal. The man was hit by weakness, numbness, chills and shortness of breath about 45 minutes after eating just a spoonful of the honey, the Center for Health Protection said. He sought treatment at the emergency unit of the Prince of Wales Hospital and was admitted. He was discharged the next day in a stable condition.
The South China Morning Post newspaper reports grayanotoxins, a group of closely related toxins found in rhododendrons and other plants from the same family, were later detected in his urine sample and the uneaten honey. The honey produced from the nectar of such plants can sometimes contain the neurotoxins, and is then known as “mad honey”.
Although grayanotoxins are a hallucinogenic rumored to be potentially lethal, the locals who harvest the mad honey in Nepal believe that it has medicinal qualities in small doses. But eating it can quickly lead to symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, weakness, excessive perspiration, hypersalivation and pins and needles. In severe cases, hypotension, a slow heart rate or shock may occur.
An investigation by the center found the honey involved was brought from Nepal by a friend of the victim.
Hong Kong authorities said the public should buy honey from a reliable source or apiary, and to discard it if it had a bitter or astringent taste as honey containing grayanotoxins could cause a burning sensation in the throat.
Travelers to areas such as the Black Sea region of Turkey, North America, Korea, Japan, Nepal and New Zealand should pay special attention as there have been reported cases of grayanotoxin poisoning that were attributed to honey from these areas. The center tells the newspaper that in September last year and May in 2014, it confirmed two cases of mad honey poisoning, affecting a 50-year-old man and a 49-year-old woman. They were hospitalized and the woman required intensive medical care before she was stabilized. In August 2013, three related people suffered from mad honey poisoning. All these cases involved honey from Nepal.