Ciguatera Poisoning

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

woman with abdominal pain

Quick GuideFood Poisoning: 20 Common and Uncommon Types, Signs and Symptoms

Food Poisoning: 20 Common and Uncommon Types, Signs and Symptoms

What is ciguatera poisoning?

Ciguatera is a type of food poisoning. The ciguatera toxin may be found in large reef fish, most commonly barracuda, grouper, red snapper, eel, amberjack, sea bass, and Spanish mackerel. These fish live in coral reef waters between latitudes of 35 degrees south to 35 degrees north, corresponding to the area located between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. These geographic lines ring the earth north and south of the equator and make up the tropics. These areas include the Caribbean Sea, Hawaii, and coastal Central America.

Ciguatera toxin tends to accumulate in predator fish, such as the barracuda and other carnivorous reef fish, because they eat other fish that consume toxin-producing algae (dinoflagellates) that live in coral reef waters.

Ciguatera toxin is harmless to fish but poisonous to humans. The toxin is odorless and tasteless, and it is heat-resistant, so cooking does not destroy the toxin. Eating ciguatera-contaminated tropical or subtropical fish poisons the person who eats it.

What are the symptoms of ciguatera poisoning?

Symptoms of ciguatera poisoning generally begins six to eight hours after eating the contaminated fish.

Symptoms include:

Hot and cold sensation may be reversed.

Severe cases of ciguatera poisoning may result in tearing of the eyes, chills, skin rash, itching, shortness of breath, drooling, and paralysis. Death due to heart or respiratory failure occurs in rare cases.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/11/2016

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