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WITH 23 confirmed deaths and 194 suspected cases of ackee poisoning in less than three months, government chemists are now conducting intensive testing on the fruit to determine the reason for the unusually high number of fatalities linked to it.

Speaking at a press conference at the Health Ministry's head office in downtown Kingston Tuesday, Director of Health Promotion and Protection Dr Eva Lewis-Fuller said that while the cases were initially being reported in St Mary and St Ann, the ministry has since received reports from other parishes as well.

"At this time, all parishes are involved in the outbreak, mainly parishes of the north-east region and some parishes of the west," she said.

"We have been investigating this, because there has been some unusual characteristics of this outbreak. It is not following the pattern that we are used to in the old days when we have ackee poison, when it affected mainly child[ren] over five and it was evenly distributed between men and women," Lewis-Fuller added.

Dr Lewis-Fuller said that men accounted for 60 per cent of those cases reported to the ministry — the majority of them being between the ages of 25-44. The last confirmed death was that of a 52-year-old man from St Mary on February 10 at the Port Maria Hospital.

Tuesday, the ministry said that it is no closer to finding out the reason for the increase in ackee poisoning, but has been cautioning persons — through advertisements — about the proper preparation of the fruit as well as warning against forcefully opening the ackee pods.

"We do have some theories and hypothesis," said Dr Lewis-Fuller. "We had very cold weather during December and there are theories surrounding the delayed opening of the ackee and, therefore, persons might have been stimulated to do their own thing with opening the ackee."

Ackee contains hypoglycin, which is known for lowering the blood sugar to lethal levels. Symptoms of ackee poisoning include uncontrollable vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, and drowsiness.

The ministry has assured that there has been no suspected case of ackee poisoning in countries where the fruit has been exported. They believe this is due to the fact that ackee prepared for export is tested for hypogylcin.

In the meanwhile, Chief Medical Officer at the Ministry Dr Sheila Campbell-Forrester said ackee poisoning has now been upgraded to the status of a reportable condition, although there has been a tapering off of reported cases in the past few weeks.

"Ackee poisoning was really not a reportable disease and so we may have been having cases of ackee poisoning in the past, which were not been reported or recorded or may have been missed [or] thought to be gastroenteritis," she said.

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Comment by barbara glover on July 30, 2013 at 4:46pm

i love to eat my ackee and saltfish but the ackee must be ready on the tree it must be open and it is ready to pick u have to be so careful with ackee it a lot of things that will poisons u corn is not good also wheat white bread flour white rice in this country people are getting poisons every day

Comment by Malcolm X on February 26, 2011 at 7:41am
This is sad. But it is also the reason I don't eat any fruit or vegetable I can't eat raw. Even potatoes, rice and corn have poisons in them when eaten uncooked.
Comment by roberto pyne on February 26, 2011 at 3:05am
Comment by AL MACK on February 25, 2011 at 7:16pm
Why are some people joking about this? It is not a laughing matter, people lost their lives. I hope that health ministry does something quickly.
Comment by joan foster on February 25, 2011 at 4:15pm

these people need to stop opening the ackee themselves and just wait for nature to happen.

Comment by Black Sheep on February 25, 2011 at 3:45pm

 if it dont kill you it will make you strong  we use it to kill our slave master back in the days they say gullybean poison too (susumber) whiteman find goldmine wait for result

Comment by Tessan Allen on February 25, 2011 at 9:56am
People force the unfit ackee to open by cuting it especially those people who sell it, cant wait for it to open, now giving our national fruit bad name.. I cant stop eating it, I have the tree and will wait for them to open..
Comment by Rissa O. on February 25, 2011 at 5:04am
just the way the thing look , i wouldnt eat .. i dont even know where to start.... Our caribbean food is so good ... next dey go tell me not to eat me eggplant ... no more chop up ... wa dem ah say !!!
Comment by Ms. Green on February 24, 2011 at 9:34pm

It's the people knowingly selling the forced-open ackee.  Times are rough, yes, but to kill off people all in the name of making a buck!! Bad-mind people dem!  You have to watch who you buy from.

If it nuh pick from mi granny tree, mi nah eat it!!!

Comment by JANETTE on February 24, 2011 at 9:31pm
Every time u turn around u can't eat something that you have been enjoying all ur life .......

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