Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: In the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, consumers should avoid fish and seafood because it may contain the Zulican virus.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2005]
Origins: This warning appears to have begun in early January 2005, roughly about a week after the
There is no such thing as the Zulican virus — this is a hoax, pure and simple. The warning has repeatedly been denounced as a fraud.
"That's not true. That's really a hoax," said Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit of the Philippine Department of Health. Likewise, the
In India, scientists of the Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT) relied not only on their own expertise but also searched a number of available sources, including the web sites of the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control for information about the purported virus. They found nothing, and neither did we when we looked.
The fictional virus is but one of the false tsunami-related rumors adversely affecting the seafood industry. Another whisper postulates fish, crabs, and prawns are now feeding on corpses which were washed out to sea and will consequently pass diseases and bacteria from the decaying bodies to those who eat the seafood. This is not the case, because the roiling waters of the tsunami stirred up the underwater world as well as the surface of the sea, thereby making even more accessible to fish their normal diet of micro-organisms, plankton, plants, and other dead fish. Associate Professor Peter Ng, a crustacean expert and director of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at the National University of Singapore, explains: "So the fish and crabs have plenty of their usual food supply and don't have to resort to eating dead human flesh." Should they inexplicably ignore the sudden abundance of their usual fare and instead turn to human remains for their sustenance, there is still no health and safety issue, said the AVA, because whatever they eat would be processed by them in the usual way, which means nutrients would be digested and absorbed to form part of the animals' own tissue, and
It has been reported the "dining on rotting corpses" belief has caused the price of fish and seafood to plunge in many countries, with
In Hong Kong, another rumor was loosed by the territory's health chiefs, who advised the public to not to buy seafood from tsunami-hit countries as it might be contaminated by pollutants stirred by the waves.
Thousands of fishermen have lost their livelihoods to these rumors.
Barbara "fish bawls" Mikkelson
On Alleged Zulican Virus (Philippine Department of Health)
No Problems in Eating Seafood (Washington Fish Growers)
Last updated: 18 January 2005
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