Cigua-what? I had never heard of the word until I was reading about an outbreak of Ciguatera in Palm Beach County, Florida recently. At least 10 people have been sickened by Ciguatera which turns out to be a specific type of food poisoning caused by ciguatoxin (a natural marine toxin) tied to certain tropical reef fish.
Some of the major culprits are:
although there are other fish that can carry the toxin. Of course, if you're a vegetarian you don't have to worry, but for those fish-eaters out there, if you avoid reef-feeding fish, you should be okay. And, although they say that certain species of Grouper and Snapper are not potentially harmful, I'd rather stay safe than sorry.
As unfamiliar I was with Ciguatera, it seems more than 50,000 people worldwide, per year, are sickened by ciguatoxin-contaminated fish. It is one of the most common forms of fish and seafood poisonings.
The major problem with Ciguatera is that you can't tell a fish is contaminated until it's too late, and unfortunately cooking the fish does not help. The toxin is so potent it takes less than one-hundredth of a gram to get you sick, and the symptoms seem hideous, often appearing within hours of eating the fish.
INITIAL GASTROINTESTINAL SYMPTOMS:
Cramping and stomach pain
FOLLOWED BY NEUROLOGICAL PROBLEMS:
Muscle aches and weakness
Tingling sensations in the mouth, lips and tongue
Hot/Cold reversal, i.e. hot feels cold and vice versa
If you get any of the above symptoms you should immediately consult a doctor, and report it to the Marine and Fresh Water Toxins Hotline (888) 232-8635.
However, the above symptoms are similar to other food poisonings, so it might not always be Ciguatera, so fear not. I remember a violent reaction I once had to MSG (at least I'm convinced it was), suffering with every single above-mentioned symptom, except for the hot/cold sensations, plus severe heart palpitations. I thought I was not long for this world. It was not fun; but whereas I felt fine the next morning, the neurological troubles caused by Ciguatera can last for months and sometimes years, in severe cases. And the symptoms can often re-occur after initial poisoning, sometimes triggered by something as seemingly harmless as caffeine, alcohol, other fish, nuts, or animal proteins.
The irony, in the case of 5 of those sickened in Palm Beach County, was that the contaminated fish was purchased at Whole Foods Markets, one of the leading Health Food Stores in the U.S.
Prevention and Holistic Treatment:
Other than eliminating fish altogether from your diet, there doesn't seem to be much else one can do to prevent the problem. As for treatment, one source recommends high dosages of Vitamin B12.