Did you ever hear of Ciguatera ?

So did you ever hear of Ciguatera ? some of you will know all too well what it is unfortunately !  And I found out to my cost over this last week. I had heard of a horrible poisoning that you can get from eating – usually – barracuda. It has all sorts of weird effects but now I know that you can get it from eating grouper as well. In fact any warm water fish that feeds off the reefs.

There is a highly toxic algae that the small reef fish eat – of course it is not toxic to them. They in turn are eaten by the larger fish and so it passes along the food chain. The toxin is undetectable in the fish which are then prepared for human consumption. No cooking method destroys the toxin at all and the fish looks and tastes just as delicious as uncontaminated fish.

Only lovely pictures of the island this week - nothing to do with ciguatera !
Only lovely pictures of the island this week – nothing to do with ciguatera !

Ciguatera affects 3 major systems of the body – gastro-intestinal as you would expect – causing vomiting and diarrhea – the central nervous system which has a myriad of strange symptoms I will tell you about and also the cardio vascular system. Personally I got away lightly with the gastro intestinal part – thinking of your sensitivity here readers – especially you Daniel ! But the central nervous system was where I was affected the most.

The classic symptom that tells you that you have ciguatera poisoning is very weird – anything cool or cold feels like it is burning the palms of your hands – so the first time I washed my hands in cool water I was shocked and knew that something very strange was going on. As soon as I felt able I googled – as we all do now – fish poisoning and there was that symptom telling me that I had ciguatera poisoning.

And pictures of kittens !
And pictures of kittens !

I also had major muscle fatigue and many other symptoms. Another strange one was intense – and I mean intense – itching all over the body. Have you ever tried to ease itching on the soles of your feet ?  All I read on the internet told me that there is no treatment for the poisoning – apart from being but on a drip if you have severe dehydration. Well I knew that I didn’t have that so I soldiered on.

But then Dr Cliff Bacchus heard that I had it and called me in. Of course having been a doctor here for so many years he is quite the expert on ciguatera – he has even written a medical paper on it. And he assured me that there are things that can be done to help it. I had a combination of treatments – both western and eastern. Acupuncture and plenty of Chinese herbal potions to stimulate the immune system along with steroid treatment to help the inflammation – the best of both worlds. Of course this was 4 days in and he told me that it would have been so much more effective had I have had it sooner – but better late than never ….

and sunsets ......
and sunsets ……

And now 6 days in I still have the burning sensation on my hands, some itching – but much less intense than it was and the fatigue is gradually fading as well. But for once I am having to take things very easily – no major tearing about like I usually do. It has been a huge lesson in listening to my poor body and having to nurse it through a really horrible situation.

Ciguatera poisoning occurs in both the Caribbean and the Pacific – in fact anywhere where the water is tropical or sub-tropical. There are many Bahamians who have lived here all their lives who have never been affected by it – and of course there are some who have. It seems fairly rare – we have lived here for 14 years and have never been affected by it until now ! By the way – you are advised not to eat warm water fish for at least 6 months after a bout of it and I can’t say I will be in any rush to try it for at least that long.

and puppies !
and puppies !

Not a very jolly subject this week for the blog but I do like to bring to your attention things that are happening in Eleuthera – and this was definitely a new one on me !






26 thoughts on “Did you ever hear of Ciguatera ?

    1. Thanks Imogene – I just wish that I hadn’t kept on reading that there was no treatment for it – thank goodness for dear Dr Bacchus….

  1. Oh, dear Kathy, I s sounds awful. Glad your on the mend and getting proper medical attention. Take care or to jump back to a busy schedule. Here’s to feeling better!

    1. It has been really horrible – but goodness it makes you feel super grateful when you realize you are on the mend ! Lovely to hear from you…..

  2. Gosh, Kathy, so so sorry. I had been under the impression it was only barracuda that could cause it, so your post was illuminating. I hope you are nourishing your body with electrolytes and optimism. The worst is behind you, so to speak.


    PS Dr. Bacchus helped Miranda with an ear ache and was wise and delightful.

  3. Dear Kathy,

    I am so sorry that the fishes stopped you in your tracks. Thank God that you have the medical treatment now! I, personally, send you best wishes for feeling wonderful in no time!

    P.S. I love your photos! Thank you!

  4. Oh man Kathy. I’m so sorry to hear this. I have a friend in North Eleuthera who just recovered from it. She was quite ill for a several weeks… and certainly did not consume ANY FISH for 6 months as directed.
    I wish you a speedy recovery my friend. Perhaps your ‘down time’ will give you more opportunity to read a couple of good books!

    1. Thanks Susy – I keep hearing of more people who have been affected. But more reading time sounds good !

  5. Hi Kathy, I’m so sorry to hear your not well. Please let me know if I can be of assistance..
    Arlington Lightbourne

  6. Hi Kathy – acupuncture works !
    Keep on healing . Neurotoxin from a coral reef fish – how would you know? Sending you healing light and love – your pal , Oli . PS – all good Chocolatier news up here . Busy !!!!!! Bookwise – literary agents have given me good advice to go to a small printing house . Not to self publish . You’ll get one of the first prints . I’ll be sure of that mom ami du Chocolat. When you get to Miami – go visit my friends- the owners of Garcia/Nevette- really fabulous Chocolatiers that I love . Also Romanicos – another fantastic Chocolatier (Alejandra) that I have known forever as a cherished friend . I always share too much – sorry !!!!!! Ps – we’re having Thanksgiving with Friedricke. Can’t wait to see the new Maison . Xoxx

    1. Thanks Oli – I think I am going to have weekly acupuncture for a while to help me through this. Of course we all know that nothing heals the body like CHOCOLAT ! Lovely to hear from you and thanks for the tips in Miami xx

  7. Goodness me that sounds terrible. Hope you fully recover quickly. You will have to look out for a few non-fish recipes for a while now.

  8. My husband and I and another couple got ciguatera from grouper this past March while visiting Eleuthera. 30+ years of visiting the Caribbean and Bahamas and this was our first time. My friend and I had the cold-hot sensation for 13 weeks! Glad to hear you are on the mend! We are back in Eleuthera in March but no fish for this girl!

    1. So sorry that you went through this – although I must admit it sort of helps to hear from people who have recovered from it ! Maybe see you in March….. lovely to hear from you .

  9. Hi Kathy,

    I was in Eleuthera recently and the last day while in Nassau waiting for my plane to Montreal,I had a fish soup at a local restaurant. About 6 hours later i was so sick with diahrea, sweating, feeling very weak and started to have hot/cold inversion sensation… After a brief internet research with key word hot/cold inversion it was clear that it was CIGUATERA. 18 days later I’m doing a little better but at times the itching start again and I’m sure it’s triggered by some food items. It’s not fun at all…. how are you doing now?
    Apart from fish, did you remove other food item from your diet?

    1. Oh poor you Chantal. I did not eat meat before I got it – only chicken and fish – but I have cut out all animal protein apart from eggs and dairy. I am now vegetarian until some time into the future. I am now about 7 or 8 weeks in and feeling much better. It was just under 5 weeks for me to start feeling like I would recover. I did read that animal protein could re-trigger the symptoms so it might be worth giving up all meat and fish for a while. For the itching I recommend a product called Cryoderm cold in a spray or roll-on – I already had some. It is meant to be for pain but I found it very effective for the itching. There are also cold gel products that work well for it as well. You have my sympathy – but you will get better !

  10. Hi Kathy,

    Thanks for your reply, i really appreciate your recommendations and I’m glad you are doing better!

    After a month i’m starting to feel a little better. Itching is 90% gone, still have hot/cold temperature reversion and my energy level is definitely better… There’s hope! :)

    If I may, I have a few quick questions for you!

    Are you able to eat items like oatmeal, quinoa, nuts and did you reintroduce chicken in your diet?

    I’m missing a nice little glass of wine, are you able to have an occasional alcoholic drink?

    Thank you and have a good holiday season!


    1. OK – so I don’t eat oatmeal because I don’t like it ! – but yes to quinoa and chicken and nuts. And I do have the occasional beer or glass of wine …. Happy New Year …..

    1. So pleased you are feeling a lot better – yes to tofu and beans as well as eggs. Plus legumes like lentils….

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