Uh – You Gonna Finish That Fish?

Uh – You Gonna Finish That Fish?

There are lots of things to worry about when eating out – did that waiter wash his hands after using the bathroom? Did that bartender drop some Visine in my drink? Is that really chicken in that General Tso’s chicken? Most people don’t consider being permanently disabled from a piece of fish. Ciguatera¬†toxin is produced by small microscopic organisms called dinoflagellates in algae – the fish eat the algae and the toxin gets incorporated into the flesh of the fish. It has no color and no taste (although some people claim that the fish tastes “peppery”) and isn’t destroyed by cooking. If you eat enough contaminated fish, you develop ciguatoxin poisoning – very nasty gastrointestinal badness, vomiting, diarrhea followed by neurological signs like headaches, double vision, incoordination, dizziness and weird sensory symptoms like allodynia where cold things feel hot and hot things feel cold. Depending on the severity, the symptoms might be permanent (I know an orthopedic surgeon whose career was ended by ciguatera poisoning). The really scary thing is that there is no way to tell if a particular piece of fish is contaminated! There was a product on the market several years ago that was used to test individual pieces of fish, but it is no longer sold. The FDA doesn’t routinely test fish – they rely on the reports of fishermen as to where the fish were caught, the thought being that ciguatoxin-producing algae blooms can be predicted based on some combination of environmental conditions. The toxin is usually found in large reef fish like grouper, snapper and barracuda but smaller fish might contain substantial amounts of the toxin too. According to this article – scientists suspect an uptick in the ciguatoxin cases based on warmer ocean currents in the Pacific. Scary stuff kids!



Vector fish known to be at higher risk for ciguatera contamination.







Nice example of a snapper.








Yeah- you know this kid is gonna get it.


Written by Poison Boy

Gerry O'Malley (a.k.a Poison Boy) is a board certified ER doctor and toxicologist with a interest in the unusual, terrifying and occasionally hilarious world of poisonings and toxicology. This site is an exploration of poisons of historical interest as well as in current events and pop culture.

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