Ciguatera: Poison on your plate?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – We’ve all heard the advice to eat more fish for our hearts, but in some cases, what we eat may be hazardous to our health. Ciguatera is a type of fish toxin that most of us have probably never heard of, but this poison on the plate can make someone very sick.

Last Thanksgiving during a trip to the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Mary Ann Reis became seriously ill.

She told Ivanhoe, “I spent the whole day lying down and I started getting this incredible burning and itching in my earlobes.”

Mary Ann thought it was food poisoning or the flu, until her symptoms dragged on for months. Her doctors couldn’t pinpoint a cause, until one made the connection between her sickness and the tropics.

“He mentioned since I had been down there and asked me if I ate fish, and I said ‘yes,’ and he told me about this fish toxic poisoning called ciguatera,” Mary Ann said.

Evan Schwarz, MD, FACEP, medical toxicologist at Washington University of St. Louis, said, “The danger is you can’t really taste it. If you cook it properly it doesn’t destroy the poison.”

Experts say you should avoid eating large fish like eel, swordfish, red snapper, sea bass and barracuda. Treatment is an IV drip of a medication called Mannitol. 

Mary Ann said, “Within the first few seconds of those drops coming through it was a like a cool wash in my brain just moving down …”

Mary Ann is back to normal and says while she plans to travel again this year, fish won’t be on the menu.

The medical toxicology and addiction clinic at Washington University of St. Louis just opened last year and they have already treated several cases of ciguatera. According to the CDC, there are 30 cases reported in the United States every year, but many cases may go unreported because the poisoning is so hard to diagnose.

What's Going Around

More cases of a highly contagious illness are being reported around town. Doctors say it almost feels like there's no end in sight for strep throat. Several doctors in all our local counties say they've been busy diagnosing and treating strep throat.

In Duval County at the Care Spot on the Southside: the staff at the Care Spot on the Southside says a lot of children are still getting back to school physicals.

In Clay County at the Care Spot in Middleburg, children and adults have been out with strep throat.

In St Johns County at the Healing Arts Urgent Care in St. Augustine: the staff says it has been pretty quiet this week. They have seen a few cases of skin fungus.

In Nassau County at the Care Spot in Yulee, one case of the flu has been reported. Strep throat, and sinus infections are also a problem.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Field Producer; Brogan Morris, Assistant Producer; Brent Sucher, Videographer; and Tony Dastoli, Editor.