Jul 8, 2015

New Study: Fish Poisoning in Florida Underreported


By on 6:42 AM

A new study conducted by the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute and the Florida Department of Health (DOH) found the number of people in Florida sickened by a dangerous food-borne toxin carried by popular sport fish may be more common than previously reported.

The toxin is called ciguatera. Symptoms associated with it 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.

The Florida DOH reports that 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, and ciguatoxic fish do not carry a foul odor or taste.

The study, published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, found that Florida's annual incidence of ciguatera poisoning is estimated at about 5.6 cases per 100,000 people, almost 30 times higher than previous estimates of 0.2 cases per 100,000.

As a press release from the Emerging Pathogens Institute notes, "The findings reaffirm pre-existing warnings to avoid eating barracuda. But the data indicate that in Florida, grouper, amberjack, hogfish, snapper, mackerel and mahi mahi harvested in tropical and subtropical areas were also associated with illness."

The Florida DOH notes that is possible to reduce your risk of ciguatera. Avoid eating large fish or species that have been reported to carry ciguatera. Ask local fishermen or bait shops for the reefs and types of fish to avoid. Unfortunately, there is no approved test kit for ciguatera at this time. At first sign of illness, contact your doctor or local emergency room and report your symptoms and what fish you ate. You can also call the toll-free Poison Help Hotline at (800) 222-1222 for more information on this marine toxin.

To read 10 facts to know about ciguatera fish poisoning assembled by the Florida DOH, click here.

Phenelle Segal, RN, CIC, FAPIC

Phenelle Segal, RN, CIC, FAPIC, is the founder and president of Infection Control Consulting Services LLC (ICCS), which is based in Delray Beach, Florida. Phenelle has more than 30 years experience providing customized comprehensive infection control and prevention services to healthcare facilities nationwide. Her services focus on assisting hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, dental office and oral surgery practices, doctor's offices, nursing homes to implement and maintain an infection control program that: complies with The Joint Commission (TJC), Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) and other regulatory agencies, respond to situations of noncompliance, and improve the processes for reducing risk.

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