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Cane toads and bush tucker: starvation ketoacidosis in a bushwalker

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We describe the case of a 35-year-old woman who presented to a remote Northern Territory hospital with severe metabolic acidosis after a 10-day solo bush walk, during which she survived on various specimens of “bush tucker” including a cane toad.

Clinical record

An otherwise fit and healthy 35-year-old woman presented to our emergency department at a remote Northern Territory hospital with vomiting and abdominal pain. An independent traveller from a southern Australian city, she had embarked 10 days earlier on a solo bushwalk into an isolated national park with the intention of living on “bush tucker” — wild plants, berries and native animals that she would find along the way. She had not sought any advice from authorities or local people before commencing her bushwalk. She followed the path of a river from which she drank fresh water throughout her journey. By Day 4 she had completely consumed her small supply of food and began eating berries that she identified using a popular Australian pictorial guide.1 On Day 6, being extremely hungry, she ate a frog that leapt into her tent, which she subsequently grilled over a spirit flame. She immediately developed nausea and vomiting and became acutely aware of the distance to medical care and her serious predicament. Still vomiting intermittently and…