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Date of issue: April 2023, Version: 2.0

Brevetoxins are cyclic polyether neurotoxic compounds produced by marine organisms such as the dinoflagellate Karenia brevis that bioaccumulate in filter feeding molluscs. Brevetoxins bind to the sodium channels in nerve cells leading to disruption of neurological processes resulting in neurotoxic shellfish poisoning. Aerosolisaton of brevetoxin is also possible during algal blooms.

There are no data regarding brevetoxin exposure in human pregnancy. Animal studies have demonstrated placental transfer of the toxin in pregnant rats, and direct fish embryo culture with the toxin produced CNS, spinal and skull malformations. However, these data may not be relevant to human exposure scenarios.

Owing to the potential severity of brevetoxin exposure, treatment during pregnancy should be the same as for the non-pregnant patient. Due to a lack of human exposure data, it is not possible to state that maternal exposure which does not result in toxicity would not pose a risk to the developing fetus. However, maternal toxicity is likely to be a major determinant of risk to the fetus after maternal brevetoxin exposure.

Due to a lack of data following exposure in human pregnancy, it is not currently possible to offer an evidence-based assessment of the risk that maternal brevetoxin exposure poses to a developing fetus. Where exposure to brevetoxin has occurred, even in cases which did not result in maternal toxicity, enhanced fetal monitoring may be warranted. Discussion with UKTIS is recommended in all cases.

This is a summary of the full UKTIS monograph for health care professionals and should not be used in isolation. The full UKTIS monograph and access to any hyperlinked related documents is available to NHS health care professionals who are logged in.

If you have a patient with exposure to a drug or chemical and require assistance in making a patient-specific risk assessment, please telephone UKTIS on 0344 892 0909 to discuss the case with a teratology specialist.

If you would like to report a pregnancy to UKTIS please click here to download our pregnancy reporting form. Please encourage all women to complete an online reporting form.

Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure that this monograph was accurate and up-to-date at the time of writing, however it cannot cover every eventuality and the information providers cannot be held responsible for any adverse outcomes of the measures recommended. The final decision regarding which treatment is used for an individual patient remains the clinical responsibility of the prescriber. This material may be freely reproduced for education and not for profit purposes within the UK National Health Service, however no linking to this website or reproduction by or for commercial organisations is permitted without the express written permission of this service. This document is regularly reviewed and updated. Only use UKTIS monographs downloaded directly from to ensure you are using the most up-to-date version.