Muscle degeneration after eating crayfish, “shrimp washing powder” may be culprit


It is the crayfish season again; the delicious crayfish because popular in China’s hot mid summer nights ever since the late 1990s. However this year over dozens of people in Nanjing were hospitalized with strange symptoms of unbearable muscle pains after eating crayfish since July. The doctor’s diagnosis was rhabdomyolysis (the destruction or degeneration of muscle tissue) serious cases even cause kidney damage. The speculation was that the “shrimp washing powder” (洗虾粉) which was popularly used by the sellers to make the crayfish look spanky fresh and clean could be the root cause.  Actually the public has already been suspicious about the powder for causing health issues. There has already been reports as early as July, that “shrimp washing powder” is killing the crayfish season and citizens cry for a public “safe list” so they know where to go to enjoy them safely.

(From Sina and everywhere else) Sore back, back pain, looking deathly pale, not being able to stand up – in the afternoon of August 21, when 27-year-old Ms Chen was transferred from Jiangsu Provincial People’s Hospital emergency room into the renal ward, Chief physician thought it was something more serious. But it turned out the culprit was the crayfish (Chinese people call them “small lobsters”). “This is the third patient being admitted to the ward for this in the recent days” Doctor Liu said. Reporter learned that since this week the Provincial People’s hospital already had over 10 people came in with the same problems after eating crayfish.

The patients at People’s Hospital of Jiangsu Province are not alone. Since July of this year, Nanjing Gulou District Hospital emergency room also saw number of patients after they have eaten crayfish. Different from the ordinary food poisoning, patients did not vomit or have diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms, but felt unbearable muscle pain. Doctor diagnosed it as rhabdomyolysis, in serious cases it could impair renal function and have the symptom of “soy sauce urine”.

In Jiangsu Provincial People’s Hospital renal ward, Xiao Gong was playing video games in bed. “He is fine now, doctor said to keep him in the hospital for observation to see if there is any renal dysfunction.” Xiao Gong is 21 years old. She told the reporter that she had some crayfish on August 20 at 1-2am. “Dad and his friend went out for dinner and took some food home for my mom and me. I probably ate over 10 of them, and also drank some beer.” Around 7 in the morning Xiao Gong’s whole body began to feel sore, and even had trouble breathing. Xiao Gong’s mom had the same symptoms even earlier. Two of them were send to the Provincial People’s Hospital emergency room. “Dad was ok, but my dad’s friend also had problem and went to another hospital.”

Because two of them are in serious condition, both were transferred to the renal ward. Test results showed that both had myoglobin level up to 4000μg / L and 6000μg / L in their blood. “Normal value would not exceed 50, such high level of myoglobin means that the mother and daughter’s muscles are dissolving.” (sarcolysis)

Unlike Xiao Gong and her mother, the 27 year old Ms Cheng bought her crayfish home and processed them by herself. In Just a few hours after eating the crayfish, Ms Cheng appeared to be in pain, “very severe back pain, like being pinched by needles.” Miss Cheng also felt difficult to breath, but did not have general food poisoning symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea etc.

After Ms Cheng was sent to the Hospital, the doctor got to know here past medical history and initially determined the symptoms had to do with eating crayfish. Tests revealed that Ms Cheng’s myoglobin level was at 1000μg / L, and already had urinary protein, so her kidney function was affected.

Doctors usually treat patients of rhabdomyolysis with alkaline urine processing and blood transfusion, making patients drink more water to help excreting the myoglobin in their bodies. Some not particularly serious kidney damage is reversible.

According to Provincial people’s hospital emergency room records, they have treated more than 10 people this week that had muscle pain and stiffness symptoms after eating crayfish. These people are mainly young, rather scattered in locations, some had crayfish in a restaurant, some bought crayfish home and processed themselves. Other than Nanjing, some patients are transferred from outside of the city.

"In terms of epidemiological investigation methods, we treated patients with same symptoms all after consuming crayfish, the time period between eating crayfish to being sick are about the same, and all with the same symptoms, so we can determine these rhabdomyolysis patients had to do with eating crayfish" director Liu Jia Said.

The cause for sure was the crayfish, but most crayfish food poisoning over the past had gastrointestinal symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea and so on. This time the symptom was sarcolysis, clearly different from the past. Many cases occurring at the same time is also different from the past. “Crayfish’s living environment was polluted? Crayfish was contaminated during shipping, cleaning or cooking process, all of them are likely to lead to such result.”

A Doctor at Gulou Hospital emergency room where the first “crayfish case” was found has been tracking these cases and found that there are still many question unanswered. The cases at Gulou Hospital are mostly from home made cooking, and mostly braised, so it is unlikely that the cause of illness being bacterial food poisoning. “Residual heavy medal” is also unlikely, because the issues caused by heavy metal resided in human body are accumulated from long periods of time, will not show up immediately. So chemical poisoning, organic poisoning are more likely.

Several patients have described to the doctors that the crayfish they had looked especially clean. So the doctors went to a local crayfish seller after work. The seller admitted that his crayfish are washed with some kind of “shrimp washing powder” (洗虾粉), but he had no idea what was in the powder.

According to reports, the crayfish currently sold on the market have all been washed by “shrimp washing powder”, and the powder is a kind of industrial acid – formed with “oxalic acid”, which is a 10,000 times stronger acid than vinegar. Director of First Affiliated Hospital of Tsinghua University, Lu Fangping believes that Oxalic acid and other chemicals or their metabolites can form crystals in renal tubules, and cause tubular blockage, resulting in symptoms such as acute tubular blockage and even lead to acute renal failure. Meanwhile, Director Lu Fangping also reminded us that rhabdomyolysis can cause by many reasons, long-term use of certain drugs, chronic alcoholism and excessive alcohol intake, may also lead to this situation.

  1. “…citizens cry for a public ‘safe list’…”. What’s the point? All it’ll lead to eventually is “cooperation” between the “3rd party safety regulators” and the local government.

  2. I can bet , if chinese wanna get clean , healthy , harmfulless .. We have to plant by ourselves.. 🙁

    Maybe not only in china , everywhere has the type of guys whom make mony without moral.
    But china has a lot , i dare say.

    It’s not safe to go out for food… Plant what you want then eat what you’ve planted

  3. Scary…..this is what happens when food production is reduced to an industrial process driven only by profit and not the end consumers welfare.

  4. Just been home for a stint of vacation and visiting my parents. No food poisoning, no la duzi, no problems. That compared to getting sick regularly (mostly la duzi and minor stuff like that) during my previous 2 years in China from eating here. The whole food sector including the restaurants sorely need a thorough overhaul in this country. The truly sad thing is that we get used to all the problems with the food while we live here and -at least for my part- I only now realized again how bad the situation is in China. It’s like we just have to accept the mess, the dirt, the rats, the cockroaches and the general disaster that is Chinese restaurant culture coz nobody seems to do anything about it. With 5000 years of history one would think that the cooks had learned to wash their hands after taking a dump before reentering the kitchen or that you shouldn’t just scoop the food you dropped on the table where you just chopped up a raw chicken back onto the plate before serving it.

    1. guobao i dont want to lash, you are a regular around here, but you have to take into consideration that locals have been eating this food without major problems for a long time. whether the food is clean or dirty, your body is going to process it differently because its not what you are used to right?

      you have to admit the food in china is normally pretty fresh, its the preparation conditions that are questionable…

      and to the commenter below, it makes sense that one arbitrary incident would deter you from experiencing a massive and culturally expansive country like china…

      1. I agree that the preparation is questionable and most of the raw food is in good condition. Your post made me think of something else regarding the locals. I know my Chinese coworkers fairly well and (unfortunately) well enough that some of them regularly update me on their bowel movements -believe me, I’ve tried to discourage them but my subtle hints go wooosh. From that I conclude that the la duzi and other more serious examples of food poisoning is fairly common with them as well. The thing is that they are used to is and the vast majority of them probably think it’s the norm for when humans eating food hence they don’t make a big fuzz about it.

        That aside there are plenty other reasons to be vary of Chinese food. Yes much of the raw materials are great, fresh and reasonably ecological but there are plenty of severely polluted lots and places nearby polluting industries where vegetables are grown, consumed or sold at markets. Almost all rivers and lakes in China are polluted by chemicals, pesticides and heavy metals and many of them to an extent where eating the fish or shellfish from them is a very real health risk. I don’t eat fresh water fish in China and I know many Chinese who reluctantly have had to make the same choice.

        1. I agree with what you’ve said, but just on one point there, it’s not that they think it’s the norm – it really is the norm. Now I don’t pretend it’s a good thing that people get sick, shorten their lives etc.. in fact I feel terrible about the fact.

          But again, it’s not that they think it’s the norm, it IS the norm. One example is the 油条(or as we天津人call it, 果子), which is basically a spongy fried bread stick, very very popular food as a breakfast meal. As far as I know, a good many of the street vendors sell 果子 that are highly polluted. With laundry detergents, oil that are used again and again, and probably 地沟油. Alum or “Aluminium potassium sulfate dodecahydrate” were traditionally added, but aluminum residues were recently found to be poisonous, so now it’s bad too.

          Alas, very very polluted food from some vendors, but because it is such a culture thing that people go buy them regardless. I have good faith in those street vendors trying to make a living. They know its bad, that it makes people sick and it’s unethical. Aside from that, word of mouth can spread very quick on Chinese street, so if people gets sick from eating food of a particular vendor, his/her business is pretty much over. So I have faith they will have those pollutants phased out eventually.

  5. You have to fry the crayfish in oil distilled from sewage. Then, the harmful chemicals will be too busy fighting eachother to effect your health.

    I wanted to travel again to China, but the necessity of eating seems to have derailed that plan.

    1. Boy, aren’t you lucky you have eaten crayfish fried in oil distilled from sewage. you are one of the lucky few that have enjoyed this delicacy. Thanks for the info.

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