United States health officials are highlighting a type of food poisoning that is going unreported these days. It involves predatory fish that swim in tropical waters, such as barracuda and grouper. If you eat these fish regularly, you are at risk of “ciguatera poisoning.”
Toxins called “CTX” build up naturally in many coral reef fish, such as surgeonfish, amberjack, and snapper. The problem is that small fish eat microalgae that might have CTX on their surface. As the bigger fish eat the smaller fish, the level of toxins grows.
When we eat such fish, the CTX can cause ciguatera poisoning. The toxins can’t be detected by color, smell or taste. They can survive even after a fish is cooked. Experts say up to 90% of people who eat a toxic fish will suffer an “attack,” generally of vomiting, diarrhea and nausea. Other symptoms could include trouble walking, tooth pain, weakness, and the bizarre “reverse temperature sensation,” (when something cold feels hot to you).
Symptoms hit six to 48 hours after eating the fish, and can last for months afterward.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says this is a highly underreported illness, with as little as 10% of cases being diagnosed properly. In Florida, where big-game fish is consumed more frequently, 68% of doctors can diagnose this correctly. The more you move inland, the less a family doctor will recognize this toxic poisoning.
Between August 2010 and July 2011, the CDC reported a sharp spike in the number of cases of ciguatera poisoning, affecting a total of 28 people. That’s more than the number of ciguatera poisoning cases in the last 10 years combined.
This illness can disrupt your life: one New York man who was very physically active then had trouble walking for months after suffering from ciguatera poisoning.
It’s hard for consumers to be vigilant because, often, fish is not labeled correctly. The CDC says that up to one-quarter of all seafood products are mislabeled. In retail stores and restaurants in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, over 20% of 190 types of fish were mislabeled, incompletely labeled, or misidentified by employees.
There is no way to test fish for these toxins before they are sold. These fish don’t look different so you wouldn’t know it. Frankly, in my opinion, with all the fish available to be eaten in a sustainable fashion, it is unwise to choose large predatory fish at all, including marlin, orange roughy, and, of course, shark.
Source(s) for Today’s Article:
“Ciguatera Fish Poisoning—New York City, 2010-2011,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) February 1, 2013.