Consuming crocodile meat can be dangerous for people with fish allergies

Fish allergy, often a lifelong disease, affects up to 3% of the general population and frequently results in life-threatening anaphylaxis,” says Dr. Thimo Ruethers, researcher in human health and aging at the Tropical Futures Institute. (TFI) at James Cook University (JCU) in Singapore. “More than 1,000 different species of fish are consumed around the world; while people with a fish allergy may be allergic to a narrow range of fish, they are often advised to avoid all fish and fish products once diagnosed with an allergy to any species of fish, resulting in significant dietary restrictions.

Crocodile meat is a known healthy alternative to fish as well as chicken, especially for people with fish and chicken allergies. In fact, crocodilian meat (which includes alligators and crocodiles) is commonly eaten around the world and especially in the tropics, including Singapore and its neighbors where many crocodile farms are located.

However, recent reports of life-threatening anaphylaxis following the consumption of crocodile meat have been linked to a major fish allergen (a protein that triggers a cascade of immunological responses in sensitized consumers that can lead to an allergic reaction). Dr Ruethers and Professor Andreas Lopata, Professor of Molecular Allergy in the College of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Sciences and TFI at JCU – in collaboration with a number of other researchers – set out to investigate this link. .

In the study, one of the largest groups of fish allergy patients in the world underwent allergen skin testing to crocodile and various types of fish. Extensive skin reactions and blood tests then showed that the vast majority (about 70%) of patients would likely have an allergic reaction to eating crocodile.

Dr Ruethers shares: “In the tropics and in many Eastern countries, the meat of amphibians and reptiles is a common food, while it is often considered ‘exotic’ in Western countries. Crocodilians are the closest living relatives of birds, which can be primary sensitizers of food allergies or, in rare cases, also cause clinical cross-reactivity in individuals allergic to fish (chickenfish syndrome).

He adds: “We have now invented the ‘fish-crocodile syndrome’: people with a fish allergy may be at risk of serious allergic reactions when eating crocodilian meat because they are very reactive to crocodile parvalbumin. This generally harmless protein is today the very first reptile allergen registered with the WHO.

“We suggest that people with fish allergies avoid eating crocodilian meat unless tolerance is confirmed or after consulting with their allergist.”

Reference: Ruethers T, Nugraha R, Taki AC, et al. First reptilian allergen and major allergen for patients allergic to fish: crocodile β-parvalbumin. Pediat All Immunol. 2022;33(5):e13781. do I:10.1111/pai.13781

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