The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an advisory to warn seafood processors yesterday, 5th February, about recent illnesses in humans
resulting from eating fish poisoned by ciguatera toxin. The toxic fish had been harvested in the Northern Gulf of Mexico, near Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary,
which is in federal waters south of the Texas-Louisiana coastline.
Ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP) is rarely fatal to humans, but it can result in a range of mild to severe symptoms, including neurological disorders that last for months or even years. The FDA listed the symptoms of CFP as:
- Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
- Numbness and tingling of the mouth, hands or feet.
- Joint pain, muscle pain, headache.
- Reversal of hot and cold sensation (cold objects feel hot and hot objects feel cold).
- Sensitivity to temperature changes.
- Vertigo, and muscular weakness.
- Cardiovascular problems, including irregular heartbeat and reduced blood pressure.
There is no antidote for CFP said the agency, it is rarely fatal, and symptoms stand the best chance of effective treatment if diagnosed withing 72 hours.
The ciguatera gets into tropical fish when they eat other marine life that has fed on tiny algae that contain the toxin. The toxin cannot be destroyed by cooking or freezing, and fish poisoned with it tastes and looks the same as fish that don't have it. The only way to test if a fish is toxic is in the lab, said the FDA.
The agency had thought CFP from the affected area in the Gulf of Mexico to be extremely rare, until it received confirmed reports of several outbreaks in Washington DC, and St Louis, Missouri, linked to fish caught near the marine sanctuary.
The FDA said it now considers CFP to be:
"A food safety hazard that is reasonably likely to occur in grouper, snapper, and hogfish captured within 10 miles of the marine sanctuary and amberjack, barracuda and other wide-ranging species captured within 50 miles of the sanctuary."
The agency advised seafood processors to reasses their current hazard procedures and update their Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans, if they buy fish that could potentially contain the toxin directly from fishermen.
If you think you have been poisoned from eating fish containing ciguatera, tell your doctor at once, or go to your local emergency room or health department, said the FDA. Also, if it is possible to do so, keep any remnants of the meal so they can be lab tested.
More information on ciguatera fish poisoning is available from the National Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222, or by clicking one of the following links:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) information about ciguatera.
Florida Department of Heath Aquatic Toxins Program.
Source: FDA News.
Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD