View Full Version : Possible bitter almond / mild cyanide poisoning?

03-14-2011, 10:27 PM
Hi. My girlfriend and I are traveling in a remote town in Spain. We've been in the country almost a month, eating the same food, both in good health.

Lately she's been stressed out because of a family situation. This morning she wasn't hungry, then later got shakes and shortness of breath, tightness in her stomach. She had a fight with her dad on the phone... we went out for a drink. She asked for half of one of my Xanax I carry around for general anxiety emergencies. I haven't taken one in two years, but I gave her half of one. She calmed down and went to bed, but the pain in her stomach just got worse and worse. Then she vomited a lot of liquid; couldn't get out of bed.

There's no hospital nearby. We are in an extremely rural place with very little medical care -- we would basically have to get her airlifted. Right now she's sleeping.

Took her pulse, it's a little high, around 120. She says she feels chills, but by touch she doesn't seem to have a fever, at least not a high one.

The one thing she ate different from me was this: Yesterday an old farmer gave us a bag of almonds. I had one, and she ate 8-12 of them. On inspection, they appear to be broad, flat, short -- bitter almonds. Later on, another guy we met cooked us a yuca. Cassava. It was sweet, not bitter. She and I both ate a lot of it.

Yet she was okay last night. Both these things had potentially a large amount of cyanide, and the almonds in particular could have had enough to kill a baby -- maybe. It would depend on the breed. The old man was just munching on them. Cyanide is very rapid.

My question is: Could cyanide poisoning with the digestion of almonds take that long, i.e. up to 18 hours? If so, what do we do? She can barely get out of bed, but I checked her fingers, no blue under the nails; she's alert; she is repelled by water or food... only vomited once... right now moaning in her sleep...

Any doctors here?

03-14-2011, 10:49 PM
It does sound like bitter almond poisoning and if she's not getting better real soon, you'd better get her to a hospital, ASAP any way you can. Are there no places you could call to get medical advice?

03-14-2011, 11:35 PM
No. I called the poison control center in california on *****. The guy there didn't know anything about almonds, said it was probably food poisoning, and told me that cyanide works very fast. It does sound like if it were cyanide it would have shown up in 30 minutes to an hour, not a day and a half later... but I don't know.

She just got up, tried to throw up, found out she was empty, went back to bed; feels a little better it seems. It's 6:30 AM here, I've been staying up all night keeping an eye on her (drank a whole bottle of wine while I was at it). No there is no one awake I can call, we don't have a regular doc; my only option is to call EMS and right now the situation doesn't seem to be that severe, but I'm still worried...

Why do you say it sounds like bitter almond...can it show up that much later?

03-15-2011, 10:53 AM
Hi one article says that the cassava if properly cooked releases the cyanide into the air so it would not be a significant source. How well cooked was it?

Steam activated charcoal has the potential to adsorb it if it is present. Charcoal can be used from clean wood if that is all that is available but should never be the briquette type from the store for grilling because this contains lighter fluid chemicals.
Also there is a possibility I suppose of getting a parasite in some places.
Some herbs might help with that. I don't know if walnut is available or fennel but those might be useful.
Is a heating pad available? If so this might provide comfort and or healing. If not a warm wet towel or thick cloth placed over the abdomen might be useful.

03-15-2011, 11:04 AM
Trying to guess what it is is almost impossible. It sounds like food poisoning to me as well, or some stomach parasite. I think I would call EMS just to be on the safe side. To me, better safe then sorry...JMHO.

Try to have her drink something and maybe some light food so she doesn't get too dehyrated, which she probably is already.

Good luck and let us know how she is doing...JJ....:wave:

03-15-2011, 11:32 AM
Thank you.
She seems to have been improving today; still had some stomach pain when she woke up but no vomiting, I've been getting her to drink water; by this afternoon she was able to get outside and get some fresh air, which I think helped a lot. Although the pains seem to be coming back intermittently. Feeding her breadsticks and apple...she seems to be a lot better and doesn't want to take a trip to the hospital. So...hopefully it's ok :)

03-15-2011, 11:45 AM
If it was bitter almond, I would think what she's experiencing now is residual effects. If she is getting ANY better, she'll probably be okay. This is just my two bits.

03-15-2011, 11:56 AM
Sounds like she is feeling better, it could have been some 24 hr. bug as well. Do make sure she drinks fluids and eats light. The stomach pain could be from vomiting. Tell her to rest!!!

Thanks for the update....JJ....:wave:

03-18-2011, 10:13 AM
Turns out it wasn't the almonds... it was some bad fish she ate. We just found out that two other people we know were both sick, and both ate the fish at the same place on the same day!

Anyway, all better now...thanks for the replies!

03-18-2011, 10:36 AM
Hi so did they find out if the fish were bad from bacteria or from a type of protozoal or other parasite?

03-18-2011, 10:50 AM
I have no idea. Our friends traveled to Madrid the next day so this was the first we'd heard from them since they've been back. They had a bad trip. The worst of it for my girlfriend was only about 24 hours, but our friends were apparently ill for 2-3 days. I was the only one who didn't eat the fish. The dish in question was uncooked anchovies "cured" in lemon juice and olive oil. Although every restaurant serves them and I know that it's normally safe to eat those in this part of Spain, this was an outdoor/catered picnic type situation, not a restaurant, and I just tend to be a little more careful than anyone else around here about what I put in my mouth. Moreover I had a wicked hangover that day and couldn't face the sight of fish (saved by the booze!) My girlfriend only ate a couple, whereas our Spanish friends scarfed them, and I just assumed that if they ate them it was probably okay and that wasn't what had caused her illness.

I laugh saying that, because what I ate while they were eating those fish was dried raw blood sausage on bread. I probably won't be laughing when the trichinosis starts.

Hopefully what she got wasn't a parasite, though. My mom picked up a parasitic infection from bad ceviche in Mexico that came back every year and kept her miserable from 1978 until the late '90s. She still can't look at fish.

Is there a way to know if it was a parasite or not?

03-18-2011, 11:56 AM
Well, I hope you know you've just turned me off on any out-of-the country vacations.

03-18-2011, 12:56 PM
Hi well if the stool is checked there might still be a decreased level there.
I would also like to know what was done for her if anything was tried.

Was walnuts, fennel, heat or charcoal tried or did she just let time and nature do its work?

I think it was a useful post to tell me that she ate less and was not sick as long as the others who ate more and were sick longer. The amount of the infective agent must have been a factor here.

03-18-2011, 02:56 PM
I think it was a useful post to tell me that she ate less and was not sick as long as the others who ate more and were sick longer. The amount of the infective agent must have been a factor here.

Doesn't that mean it was probably a bacterial agent, instead of a parasite... wouldn't a parasite take longer to act too?

We didn't do anything except try to keep her hydrated and wait it out. We carry activated charcoal to help with travelers diarrhea in third world countries (we travel a lot) but this was mostly vomiting, not diarrhea and I didn't think it was the kind of thing charcoal would help with. Also, charcoal is contraindicated for cyanide (according to google) so since we thought that was a possibility we didn't give her anything but camomile tea and water.

But SnowBunny...this doesn't have to a be a typical experience...look at me, I've lived in 9 countries in the last four years, and I'm careful! My girlfriend got food poisoning in Vietnam too, and I was 80% okay, mostly by always taking a little whisky after meals. And I don't deprive myself...I'll eat street food almost anywhere, provided it looks fresh and I can see it cooked in front of me. She's just more trusting. I think provided you're well-armed if you understand how bacteria grows and under what conditions it's killed, etc. (ie. if you've ever worked in a restaurant kitchen, you know by looking at the state of a kitchen / ingredients whether they've been kept refrigerated or not) and as long as you're a little careful you shouldn't have a problem. Street food's usually safer because it's made in front of you. The only time I ever got serious food poisoning in years of international traveling was on a club sandwich from room service at a 4-star hotel!

03-18-2011, 04:28 PM
Hi ah well one website I found said the opposite about the charcoal. To satisfy curiosity about the amoeba parasite versus bacteria I looked it up and found that one amoeba can become two in 15 minutes. A bacteria can become 2 in 20 minutes. Some worms may take longer. A fish can die of a protozoal infection in 4 hours to a couple days according to one place on the net. :)