Serve Seafood? Be Aware of Ciguartera Fish Poisoning

red snapper

Ciguatera Fish Poisoning is a food borne illness that, once ingested, can be sexually transmitted!

It seems pretty far fetched but it’s true. This particular illness is unusual because can be spread through the semen during sex. Therefore, one infected fish can double the number of people that get sick. With more varieties of fish from all over the world coming in to fish markets and restaurants in the United States it’s vitally important that you learn about the potential illnesses and how to prevent them.

Ciguatera Fish Poisoning

Ciguatera Fish Poisoning is actually the most frequently reported seafood-toxin related illness in the entire world according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. It is passed on to a human when he eats fish that contains these naturally occurring toxins. The toxins enter the fish’s system when it eats algae that contains a certain protazoan, generally found in coral reefs in tropical and subtropical areas.  The toxin moves up through the food chain when carnivorous fish eat the fish that ingested the algae, and so on right to a beautifully prepared plate in a restaurant. Cooking the fish doesn’t seem to kill the toxin and when it is ingested.

In fact there is really no effective way to know which fish is carrying the poison and which isn’t. It kind of makes you want to stick with cold water fish, doesn’t it?


The symptoms of Ciguatera Fish Poisoning are varied.

These develop 6 to 24 hours after eating the fish

  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood pressure changes
  • Diarrhea
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Vomiting

In the first few days neurological symptoms may develop.

  • Itching
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Muscular aches and pains
  • Numbness
  • Painful sex
  • Tingling

An interesting symptom reported by many victims of the toxin is the reversal of hot and cold temperature perception so that hot coffee feels icy cold and an ice cube feels steamy hot. There may also be hallucinations.


There is no cure for Ciguarta Fish Poisoning. If you happen to get the illness doctors can give you something that will reduce the symptoms if given in the first few days but after that you’ll have to ride out out until it goes away — usually a few weeks.

How to Avoid the Fish

It is recommended that you try to stay away from fish associated with areas where the Ciguarta Toxin exists. Since it can’t be cooked out, tasted, smelled, or washed off you must try to avoid it completely. If you do serve warm water fish like Red Snapper on your menu then try to buy fish that are less than three pounds and stick with suppliers that are well established and more likely to be aware of any outbreaks of the toxin related illnesses. You should note that Mahi Mahi and Yellowtail Snapper are considered  safe and Barracuda should never be considered safe no matter what the size.

The FDA has drafted a pamphlet of facts that you should know if you serve reef fish on your menu.

Seafood Is a Popular Item in Restaurants

Seafood is, and will probably always be, a popular item in restaurants. You don’t have to take it off the menu to be safe. Just know the potential, do plenty of research and keep abreast of new outbreaks, and follow the FDA’s tips for avoiding infected seafood.


image credit: Ralph and Jenny




- Marye Audet

Marye Audet is an author, freelance writer, and editor. Cooking, baking, and recipe development have been a major part of her life since she baked her first loaf of bread at age 13. Luckily, with a husband, eight children, a son in law, and three grandchildren she has enough test-tasters to handle the steady stream of experiments that come from her kitchen.

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