Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.
 

usa: Seafood poisoning rises with warming -

Expand Messages
  • Pamela Rice
    [EXCERPT: What Roa and the others suffered that night last August was ciguatera poisoning, a rarely fatal but growing menace from eating exotic fish. All had
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2007
      [EXCERPT: What Roa and the others suffered that
      night last August was ciguatera poisoning, a
      rarely fatal but growing menace from eating
      exotic fish. All had bought portions of the same
      barracuda from a local vendor. ... Experts
      estimate that up to 50,000 people worldwide
      suffer ciguatera poisoning each year, with more
      than 90 percent of cases unreported. Scientists
      say the risks are getting worse, because of
      damage that pollution and global warming are
      inflicting on the coral reefs where many fish
      species feed.]



      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070401/ap_on_he_me/asia_toxic_fish;_ylt=AtYgha2tLCTfG0btHwwXh7nMWM0F

      Seafood poisoning rises with warming

      By MICHAEL CASEY, AP Environmental Writer

      Bowls of piping hot barracuda soup were the
      much-anticipated treat when the Roa family
      gathered for a casual and relaxing Sunday meal.

      Within hours, all six fell deathly ill. So did
      two dozen others from the same neighborhood. Some
      complained of body-wide numbness. Others had
      weakness in their legs. Several couldn't speak or
      even open their mouths.

      "I was scared. I really thought I was going to
      die," said Dabby Roa, 21, a student who suffered
      numbness in his head, tingling in his hands and
      had trouble breathing.

      What Roa and the others suffered that night last
      August was ciguatera poisoning, a rarely fatal
      but growing menace from eating exotic fish. All
      had bought portions of the same barracuda from a
      local vendor.

      Experts estimate that up to 50,000 people
      worldwide suffer ciguatera poisoning each year,
      with more than 90 percent of cases unreported.
      Scientists say the risks are getting worse,
      because of damage that pollution and global
      warming are inflicting on the coral reefs where
      many fish species feed.

      Dozens of popular fish types, including grouper
      and barracuda, live near reefs. They accumulate
      the toxic chemical in their bodies from eating
      smaller fish that graze on the poisonous algae.
      When oceans are warmed by the greenhouse effect
      and fouled by toxic runoff, coral reefs are
      damaged and poison algae thrives, scientists say.

      "Worldwide, we have a much bigger problem with
      toxins from algae in seafood than we had 20 or 30
      years ago," said Donald M. Anderson, director of
      the Coastal Ocean Institute at the Woods Hole
      Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

      "We have more toxins, more species of algae
      producing the toxins and more areas affected
      around the world," he said.

      Although risk of ciguatera has soared recently,
      the phenomenon is ancient. Fish poisoning shows
      up in Homer's Odyssey. Alexander the Great
      forbade his armies to eat fish for fear of being
      stricken, according to University of Hawaii
      professor Yoshitsugi Hokama.

      Capt. James Cook and his crew probably suffered
      ciguatera poisoning in 1774 after eating fish
      near Vanuatu in the South Pacific, according to
      crew journals and correspondence studied by Dr.
      Michael Doherty of the Swedish Epilepsy Center in
      Seattle, writing in the scientific review
      Neurology. Cook recorded that they "were seized
      with an extraordinary weakness in all our limbs
      attended with a numbness or sensation like ...
      that ... caused by exposing one's hands or feet
      to a fire after having been pinched much by
      frost."

      Ciguatera has long been known in the South
      Pacific, the Caribbean and warmer areas of the
      Indian Ocean. Some South Pacific islanders use
      dogs to test fish before they eat.

      But in the past decade, it has spread through
      Asia, Europe and the United States, where more
      restaurants are serving reef fish, prized for
      their fresh taste and exotic cachet.

      In the United States, ciguatera poisonings are
      most frequent in Florida, Texas and Hawaii, which
      has seen a fivefold increase since the 1970s to
      more than 250 a year.

      Hong Kong, which imports much of its seafood,
      went from fewer than 10 cases annually in the
      1980s to a few hundred now.

      Still, Hong Kong diners pay a premium for the
      risky fish. Rare species like the Napoleon wrasse
      fetch nearly $50 a pound. The fish are
      increasingly shipped live from Southeast Asia and
      as far away as the South Pacific, raising
      concerns from the World Conservation Union that
      many species, especially groupers, could be
      fished out of existence.

      Professor Yvonne Sadovy, of the University of
      Hong Kong, predicted that high demand and
      cash-hungry fishermen mean that "ciguatoxic fish
      entering markets around the world is going to
      increase."

      Should global warming and pollution worsen and
      boost ciguatera poisonings, as most experts
      predict, health officials will face a daunting
      challenge.

      Currently, there is no reliable way to detect
      whether a fish has ciguatera. The molecule is
      extremely complex and differs markedly from
      region to region.

      There also is no antidote.

      Furthermore, doctors are often ill-equipped to
      diagnose ciguatera, which has a range of symptoms
      and is sometimes misdiagnosed as chronic fatigue
      syndrome or other maladies.

      Those challenges faced Dr. Edgar Portigo at
      Doctors General Hospital in Iloilo, about 265
      miles southeast of Manila, when the Roa family
      and others arrived. The emergency room was
      filling with patients yelping in pain, vomiting,
      or, in the case of Dabby Roa, so paralyzed that
      he had to be carried in by a security guard.

      "Normally, you have one or two emergency cases.
      Here we had 30 plus all at once," from ages 4 to
      65, Portigo said.

      At first, Portigo surmised the patients had heavy
      metal poisoning. But when he learned of the
      common thread - the barracuda dinners - he sent a
      sample of the fish to Manila for testing. It came
      back positive for ciguatera.

      Portigo gave his patients intravenous drips and a
      diuretic to relieve their suffering. Most like
      Roa were released from the hospital in a week, he
      said, and fully recovered.

      "Although this is quite rare, it can happen
      anytime," said Portigo, noting this was the first
      ciguatera outbreak in the city.

      A relatively quick recovery is the norm, but some have lingering symptoms.

      Dennis McGillicuddy, a 65-year-old retired cable
      television company owner from Sarasota, Fla.,
      fell sick a few hours after eating a mutton
      snapper he caught off the coast of Bermuda in
      2000. Within hours, his vomiting and diarrhea
      were so severe that he became delirious and was
      "reduced to crawling," he recalled.

      The digestive symptoms lasted two weeks. After
      that, McGillicuddy became so sensitive to
      temperature extremes that it was hard to take a
      shower. Numbness in his extremities lasted for
      almost a year.

      "I've never had anything like this," said
      McGillicuddy, who still occasionally feels
      tingling in his left arm. "You feel terrible all
      over your body."

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and others
      who monitor ciguatera say they are hampered by
      the lack of a reliable test. Bans on certain fish
      or "hot spots" can help, but they often are
      impractical.

      "It's very hard to manage," said professor
      Richard Lewis, of the University of Queensland in
      Australia, who has studied ciguatera. "Unless you
      don't eat the fish, you have a risk of getting
      ciguatera."

      Poorer countries often lack even rudimentary
      measures to protect consumers. Those precautions
      that do exist are undermined by government
      corruption or lack of enforcement.

      Hong Kong has refused to enact mandatory measures
      to prevent ciguatera despite increased outbreaks.
      It argues that educating consumers and traders is
      the answer, rejecting calls to crack down on
      traders or ban fish from suspect areas.

      "Given the fact we eat so much seafood in Hong
      Kong, this should be one of the priorities in
      protecting the population," Sadovy said. "I just
      hope we don't have to wait for someone to die
      before something is done."

      In Iloilo, fear has done what the Philippine
      government has not. Consumers stopped buying
      barracuda after the ciguatera outbreak. Vendors
      have switched to less risky varieties.

      ___

      Associated Press writer Dikky Sinn in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

      ___

      On the Net:

      The World Conservation Union: http://www.iucn.org/

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration: http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/mow/chap36.html

      The Harmful Algae Page: http://www.whoi.edu/redtide/

      Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press.
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.