FDA warns of risk of poisoning in some Gulf fish

WASHINGTON Ciguatera fish poisoning, or CFP, which has potentially serious health consequences for consumers, is reasonably likely to occur in grouper, snapper and hogfish captured within 10 miles of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the northern Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned seafood processors this week.

FDA officials said such poisoning is also likely in amberjack, barracuda and other wide-ranging species captured within 50 miles of the sanctuary

The FDA said it previously considered CFP from fish in this geographical area extremely rare but has reassessed its position after several confirmed outbreaks in Washington, D.C., and St. Louis, Mo. The FDA urged seafood processors that purchase reef fish and other potentially ciguatoxic fish directly from fishermen to reassess and update their Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point, or HACCP, plans as necessary.

Ciguatera poisoning is caused by the consumption of tropical reef fish that have assimilated ciguatoxins through the marine food chain from toxic microscopic algae, according to the FDA. Federal officials noted that the toxins that cause ciguatera cannot be destroyed by cooking or freezing, and that the only way to detect CFP is through laboratory testing.

Symptoms of ciguatera poisoning, which is rarely fatal, include nausea, vomiting; diarrhea; numbness and tingling of the mouth, hands or feet; joint pain; muscle pain; headache; reversal of hot and cold sensations; sensitivity to temperature changes; vertigo; and muscular weakness. There also can be cardiovascular problems, including irregular heartbeat and reduced blood pressure.

The FDA said most CFP symptoms usually appear within hours after eating a toxic fish and go away within a few weeks, but noted that neurological symptoms have been known to last for months to years. There is no antidote for CFP, and symptoms can be treated most effectively if diagnosed by a doctor with 72 hours, FDA sources said.