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Marine Toxins

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What are the types of marine toxin poisoning?

Scombrotoxic fish poisoning:

  • Is caused by bacteria. The bacteria may produce a chemical (histamine) that results in the food poisoning.
  • Is usually found in finfish such as tuna, mackerel, and bonito.
  • Causes symptoms within 2 minutes to 2 hours of eating the fish. The most common symptoms are rash, diarrhea, flushing, sweating, headache, and vomiting. Burning or swelling of the mouth, stomach pain, and a metallic taste may also occur. Most people have mild symptoms that are gone within a few hours. In severe cases, antihistamines or epinephrine may be needed.
  • Cooking does not destroy the chemical, so buy your fish from a good source.

Ciguatera poisoning:

  • Is caused by ciguatoxins, which are produced by tiny sea plants called dinoflagellates.
  • Is usually found in tropical reef fish (such as barracuda) that kill other fish. But it may be found in grouper, sea bass, snapper, mullet, and other fish living in tropical waters. Common locations for these fish are the reefs surrounding Hawaii, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam and other South Pacific Islands.
  • Causes symptoms within a few minutes to 30 hours. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, excessive sweating, headache, and muscle aches. A feeling of burning and "pins and needles" as well as weakness, itching, and dizziness can occur. You may also experience unusual taste sensations, nightmares, and hallucinations. Symptoms usually are over in 1 to 4 weeks.
  • Cooking does not destroy the toxins, so buy your fish from a good source.

Paralytic shellfish poisoning:

  • Is caused by a dinoflagellate, although not the same one that causes ciguatera poisoning. These dinoflagellates have a red-brown color and in large numbers can cause a red streak called "red tide" in the ocean.
  • Is usually found in shellfish in colder coastal waters, such as the Pacific Northwest and New England. Shellfish that have caused the condition include mussels, cockles, clams, scallops, oysters, crabs, and lobsters.
  • Usually causes symptoms within 2 hours of eating the shellfish, although symptoms may occur within 15 minutes or after as long as 10 hours. Symptoms usually begin with numbness or tingling in the face, arms, and legs, followed by headache, dizziness, nausea, and loss of coordination. Symptoms are usually mild, although severe symptoms have occurred.
  • Cooking does not destroy the toxins, so buy your fish from a good source.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 18, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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