Fish poisoning describes a group of conditions related to the consumption of contaminated fish and seafood. There are three common types of fish poisoning. They include ciguatera poisoning, scombroid poisoning, and various shellfish poisonings.
In ciguatera poisoning, a toxin called ciguatoxin is created in small amounts in certain algae. The small fish eat the algae and become contaminated, then they are eaten by bigger fish, which causes the bigger fish to become contaminated. The toxin is heat stable, so no amount of cooking will make the fish safe to eat. This type of poisoning generally occurs in large fish from warm tropical waters, including grouper, sea bass, and red snapper. In the United States, the waters around Florida and Hawaii have the greatest potential to contain contaminated fish.
The risk of contracting ciguatera poisoning is highest in the summer months and any time there is a “red tide”, a rapid increase of algae in the ocean. The symptoms of ciguatera poisoning generally include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. As the illness progresses, individuals will start to experience headaches, a metallic taste in the mouth, a sensation that one’s teeth are about to fall out, and the confusion of hot and cold sensations. Low blood pressure and low heart rate may also occur. Treatments for ciguatera poisoning include anti-emetics to reduce vomiting, fluid replacement by IV, and a medication to reduce neurological symptoms.
Scombroid poisoning involves fish that is not immediately refrigerated or frozen after it dies. Bacteria on the fish start to produce histamine and other similar substances, which renders the fish toxic. Where the fish was caught has no bearing on the illness. Symptoms normally occur immediately after consuming the contaminated fish and may include nausea, vomiting, hives, extremely red skin, and difficulty breathing. Normal treatment includes fluids by IV, antihistamine medication, and anti-emetics to reduce vomiting. In rare cases, a breathing tube may be inserted to assist with breathing and medications to control severe allergic reactions may be needed.
Shellfish poisoning is very similar to ciguatera poisoning and is caused by the same agent. Most cases occur in the summer months, giving rise to the adage “Only eat shellfish in months containing the letter R.” Shellfish poisoning usually occurs in shellfish with two shells, such as oysters, scallops, mussels, and clams. Different types of shellfish poisoning can exhibit different symptoms. In rare cases, the illness can cause paralysis.
Ciguatera poisoning and various shellfish poisoning have symptoms can last for days or weeks, depending on the severity and toxicity of the poisoning, while scombroid poisoning symptoms start to dissapear once medical treatment has begun. The harmful substances that cause ciguatera, scombroid, and shellfish poisoning are heat stable, so no amount of cooking will protect you from becoming poisoned if you eat fish that is contaminated. If you are poisoned, your prognosis is good, as serious complications and death occurs very rarely.
Related: Oyster Recall Litigation
The Information contained on this page is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical or legal advice. If you feel that you or someone you know has food poisoning, seek medical attention immediately by visiting your doctor of by dialing 911.
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If you or a loved one have been the victim of food poisoning, you should contact us immediately. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries by filing a food poisoning lawsuit and we can help.