Two San Franciscans In Critical Condition After Consuming Tea Contaminated With Aconite

The San Francisco Department of Health reported on Friday afternoon that two residents are in critical condition and remain hospitalized after consuming herbal tea containing aconite—a lethal poison—from a Chinatown store. 

In two separate incidents that occurred in February and March, a woman in her 50s and a man in his 30s fell critically ill after drinking the tea requiring resuscitation and hospitalization within an hour after consumption. The Department of Health confirmed that the toxin was found in lab tests of the patients and the tea samples provided by the victims. 

Aconite, also referred to as monkshood, helmet flower, wolfsbane, chuanwu, caowu, and fuzzy, is a plant-based toxin and is sometimes used as a remedy for pain, bruises, and other conditions, but only after the aconite roots have been properly prepared and processed.

According the US National Library of Medicine, "Soaking and boiling during processing or decoction preparation will hydrolyze aconite alkaloids into less toxic and non-toxic derivatives." However, "The use of a larger than recommended dose and inadequate processing increases the risk of poisoning."

The tea leaves in both cases were purchased at Sun Wing Wo Trading Company (1105 Grant Avenue), and the city's environmental health inspectors are removing the tainted product from the store. The department also said that they are working with the owner to source the location of the contaminated product to ensure the infected plant doesn't make it back on the shelves. 

Dr. Tomás Aragón, a city health officer said in a statement, “Anyone who has purchased tea from this location should not consume it and should throw it away immediately." He added, "Aconite poisoning attacks the heart and can be lethal.”

Aconite poisoning symptoms usually develop within minutes or up to a few hours, health officials said. Some of the symptoms include numbness or tingling of the face, mouth or limbs, paralysis, low blood pressure, palpitations, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

If residents have consumed the product and experience no symptoms, health officials have said that they should be safe, but urge those who use the product to get rid of any remaining tea. 

As there there is no antidote for aconite poisoning, if you experience any of these symptoms, the Department of Health requests that you call 911 or get to a hospital immediately. 

For questions about potential hazards, contact California Poison Control or call 1-800-222-1222. 

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