Ciguatera Fish Poisoning
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It is a generally held theory that ciguatera, as a poisonous substance, was named and identified in Cuba, circa the early 1800s. Local folklore has identified that the etymology stems from a story of an Englishman who caught a barracuda on the Isla de Pinos. After consuming the barracuda, the Englishman became terribly ill. When queried about the origins of his illness, the Englishman claimed to have caught and eaten “a fish, from the seawater”. This gave rise to the name of the ailment as ciguatera, a transliteration into Spanish of the English word seawater.
toxins produced by a marine microalgae called Gambierdiscus toxicus.
Description of the substance
Ciguatera is a form of human poisoning caused by the consumption of subtropical and tropical marine finfish which have accumulated naturally occurring toxins through their diet. The toxins are known to originate from several dinoflagellate (algae) species that are common to ciguatera endemic regions in the lower latitudes.
Marine finfish most commonly implicated in ciguatera fish poisoning include the groupers, barracudas, snappers, jacks, mackerel, and triggerfish. Many other species of warm-water fishes harbor ciguatera toxins. The occurrence of toxic fish is sporadic, and not all fish of a given species or from a given locality will be toxic.
The toxin first affects the coral-grazing fish and is then passed up and through the food chain to the piscivorous fish (i.e., snapper, grouper, amberjack, barracuda) and finally to man. The toxin is not affected by either cooking or freezing, and the affected fish, cooked or raw, is not tainted by bacteria in any way. Typically, the victim states, "It was the best fish I ever tasted."
All humans are believed to be susceptible to ciguatera toxins. Populations in tropical/subtropical regions are most likely to be affected because of the frequency of exposure to toxic fishes. However, the increasing per capita consumption of fishery products coupled with an increase in interregional transportation of seafood products has expanded the geographic range of human poisonings.
Ciguatera symptoms were first described in the 1500's by the Spanish explorers to Cuba and were attributed to the ingestion of a small snail which they called cigua.
In the Pacific, the first Tahitian death on the ship Bounty (of the famous Mutiny on the Bounty) was the ship's surgeon after a fish feast: "Old Bacchus died not of drink, as might have been supposed, but of eating a poisonous fish."