Ciguatera fish poisoning is transmitted when people eat a fish which contains a marine toxin called ciguatoxin. Ciguatoxins are produced by a dinoflagellate algae called Gambierdiscus toxicus. Large reef-dwelling fish accumulate marine toxins by eating toxic algae growing on coral reefs. Toxins are found in the highest concentrations in the muscle tissue, organs, and fat of tropical or subtropical predatory reef fish.
Over 400 known fish species have been classified as potential ciguatoxin carriers. Examples of species associated with Florida cases include barracuda, grouper, amberjack, snapper, tuna, kingfish, eel, trevally, seabass, mackerel, hogfish, and mahi-mahi. Cooking fish does not kill the heat-stable toxin. Ciguatoxic fish do not carry a foul odor or taste.
The symptoms associated with ciguatera may include: vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain or cramping, itchy skin; aching teeth, muscles, or joints; tingling sensation in the extremities, painful urination, and temperature reversal with a typical onset within 24 hours following fish consumption. Gastrointestinal symptoms typically present first, within 24 hours of exposure, followed by neurological symptoms which usually begin 1-2 days following the exposure. Rare secondary cases of mother-to-child transmission during breastfeeding and male-to-female sexual transmission have been reported.
If you suspect that you have ciguatera fish poisoning, contact your local County Health Department or the Florida Poison Control Hotline at: 1-800-222-1222. Seek medical treatment from a health care provider.