Ten people and two pooches were poisoned when a man cleaning his fish tank unwittingly released fumes from the world's "second deadliest" toxin, according to reports.

Chris Matthews, 27, was cleaning out his tank in his Oxfordshire home in England late last month — when he took out a rock covered in Pulsing Xenia coral and began scraping it, The Evening Times reported.

According to the New York Post, agitating the coral made it release the deadly substance palytoxin into the air. After he was finished, Matthews closed the door and went to bed.

The following day, Matthews, his girlfriend, mum, dad, sister and her boyfriend came down with flu-like symptoms, Matthews told the Times.


"It was worse than flu, we couldn't concentrate on anything," he told the outlet. "We couldn't regulate our temperature — we were struggling to breathe and coughing.

"It was when we noticed our two dogs had similar symptoms that we knew something wasn't right," he recalled.

He called for help, sparking a massive emergency services response, including ambulances, fire crews and police, according to the report.

Photos of the coral that hospitalised a family of seven in South Australia. Photo / News.com.au
Photos of the coral that hospitalised a family of seven in South Australia. Photo / News.com.au

Four firefighters even fell ill during the response. They were hospitalised, along with Matthews and the others.

The house was ventilated overnight, while chemical officers and public health officials worked to remove the rest of the coral.

Dr Mike Leahy, a virologist featured on the National Geographic TV show Bite Me, lives in the town where the incident occurred, and tweeted a photo of the emergency response.

It's not the first time a family has be affected by coral toxins.

Last year, two adults and five children from Aldinga Beach in South Australia were admitted to hospital after breathing in spores released from coral in their home aquarium.


In a story remarkably similar to Matthews', the coral had been scrubbed clean and was left outside of the tank. Country Fire Service officers had to come in and clean the home.

A dog also had to be treated for exposure to the toxin.