What’s Ciguatera?

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Ciguatera is a form of food poisoning caused by ciguatoxin found in some tropical fish. Symptoms include gastrointestinal and neurological issues, and long-term damage is possible. Supportive care is the focus of treatment, and the incidence has decreased due to closer inspection of tropical waters.

Ciguatera is a form of food poisoning caused by ingestion of ciguatoxin, a toxin found in some tropical fish. This form of food poisoning is not curable, but is usually survived, depending on how much the patient ingested and how healthy they were to start with. The incidence of ciguatera has radically decreased thanks to closer inspection of tropical waters and the rapid closure of fisheries in areas suspected of being contaminated; people who eat a lot of seafood may want to keep an eye out for seafood recalls to avoid ciguatera and other forms of seafood poisoning.

Ciguatoxin acts on the gastrointestinal tract, causing cramps, vomiting, diarrhea and similar symptoms. It also causes neurological symptoms such as confusion, lack of balance, and nervous system malfunctions, such as perceiving cold as hot. Symptoms often emerge very quickly, thus ensuring that the patient no longer ingests fish because he feels too sick to eat.

This toxin appears to come from dinoflagellates, microscopic organisms found throughout the ocean. Research on ciguatera suggests that ciguatoxin is most commonly found in the Pacific tropics and the Caribbean, concentrated in fish that frequent coral reefs. Ciguatoxin is often subject to biomagnification, becoming more concentrated as it moves up the food chain, and because people often eat fish that is at the top of the food chain, they may be at risk for ciguatera poisoning.

Supportive care is usually the focus of treatment for ciguatera. Doctors address a patient’s individual symptoms to help them recover. Symptoms can flare up up to 20 years later, often in response to eating potential allergens such as nuts and shellfish, and ciguatera can also cause long-term neurological damage. People who have experienced ciguatera should be aware of it and pass on information about their disease to healthcare professionals whenever possible.

The first reported cases of ciguatera appear to date back to the 16th century, when sailors reported falling ill after eating tropical fish. By the 18th century, ciguatera had become quite well known, especially in the Caribbean, although the cause was not fully understood. The condition can be confusing, because the fish may be safe to eat at some times and unsafe to eat at others, making it difficult to link a specific species to ciguatera. Additionally, ciguatoxin can be present in fish that frequent widely dispersed areas, making it difficult to define the geological focus on the toxin and issue a warning or recall.

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