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Men and Women of all ages, excluding infants, became victims and cats in victim's families often showed similar symptoms. Thus fish- and shellfish- mediated food poisoning was first to become suspect.

Taking into consideration the geographical and chronological distribution of the victims, it was surmised that a chemical substance contained in the waste discharge from an acetaldehyde plant located on the shores of Minamata Bay was causative agent. Mercury was not suspected at the beginning, and it took there years for mercury theory to be formulated. This was due to the peculiar etiology of this disease.