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Fish Tank Coral Produced Toxin That Nearly Killed Family

CEDAR PARK, TX (CBS Local) - A Texas mother is speaking out after an attempt to clean a fish tank nearly killed her and her entire family.

Chasity Ahman was cleaning the family fish tank when she noticed a strange substance growing on the decorative coral inside the aquarium. "I noticed these little, cute... button polyps that were new to me," Ahman said, via KHOU.

After scrubbing off the odd algae, Ahman said she immediately started to feel sick. Unknown to her, the algae had released a dangerous neurotoxin into the air. By the next morning the Ahmans were completely incapacitated and their condition stumped local hospitals. "I thought we were coming down with the flu or something. We couldn't get out of bed. I couldn't answer the door. I couldn't force myself out of bed."

According to local saltwater livestock experts, colorful coral arrangements known as palythoa can be deadly for owners who don't know how to properly take care of them. "When that stuff becomes airborne, it's usually caused by somebody scraping," said Austin Aqua-Dome manager Hunter Leber. "I would suggest, really, to leave them alone for the most part."

Ahman and her family reportedly spent two days in the hospital. The palythoa toxin also killed five of the family's fish.

In late March, 10 people in Great Britain were hospitalized after being exposed to "palytoxins" that were released by a man cleaning his fish tank. 27-year-old Chris Matthews reportedly removed his decorative aquarium rocks from the tank and unknowingly exposed his family and firefighters to "incredibly lethal" fumes produced by the coral. Those patients were all treated and released after suffering flu-like symptoms and eye irritation.

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