updated 8/23/2007 4:35:54 AM ET 2007-08-23T08:35:54

Unscrupulous vendors in Thailand have been selling meat of the deadly puffer fish disguised as salmon, causing the deaths of more than 15 people over the past three years, a doctor said Thursday.

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Although banned since 2002, puffer fish continues to be sold in large quantities at local markets and restaurants, said Narin Hiransuthikul of Bangkok’s Chulalonkorn University Hospital.

“Some sellers dye the meat of puffer fish and make it look like salmon which is very dangerous,” Narin said.

Narin said over the past three years more than 15 people have died and about 115 were hospitalized from eating the fish.

The ovaries, liver and intestines of the puffer fish contain tetrodotoxin, a poison so potent that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it can “produce rapid and violent death.”

The fish is called fugu in Japan, where it is consumed by thrill-seeking Japanese gourmets for whom the risk of poisoning adds piquancy.

Every year, there are reports of people dying or falling sick in Asia from eating puffer fish. Eating the fish can cause paralysis, vomiting, heart failure and death.

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