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Published On: Wed, Jun 12th, 2013

Hong Kong: Ciguatera outbreak sickens 19 who ate at a Lamma Island seafood restaurant

The Hong Kong Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health is investigating a suspected ciguatoxin poisoning case affecting 19 people who consumed a coral reef fish, according to press release Monday.

Public domain image published by NOAA

Barracuda is one of the large fish implicated in ciguatera. Public domain image published by NOAA

According to health officials, the outbreak involved 14 males and 5 females, aged between 23 and 71, who developed symptoms of ciguatoxin poisoning including limb numbness and weakness, abdominal pain, peri-oral parasthesia, skin itchiness, palpitation, diarrhea and vomiting about three to 19 hours after eating a fish during lunch in a restaurant on Lamma Island on June 8.

The South China Morning Post has identified the restaurant as the Wai Kee Sea Food Restaurant in Sok Kwu Wan.

Wai Kee restaurant keeper surnamed Wong told the Post that it was “pure bad luck” that the fish had carried ciguatoxin and there was no real way of tracing the roots of the toxin, nor was there any quick way to test for it.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Ciguatera fish poisoning (or ciguatera) is an illness caused by eating fish (Barracuda, black grouper, blackfin snapper, cubera snapper, dog snapper, greater amberjack, hogfish, horse-eye jack, king mackerel, and yellowfin grouper, among others) that contain toxins produced by a marine microalgae called Gambierdiscus toxicus.

People who have ciguatera may experience nausea, vomiting, and neurologic symptoms such as tingling fingers or toes. They also may find that cold things feel hot and hot things feel cold. Ciguatera has no cure. Symptoms usually go away in days or weeks but can last for years. People who have ciguatera can be treated for their symptoms.

According to a CHP spokesman, “The toxin cannot be destroyed by cooking” and “it is not easy to tell from the appearance of the fish whether it contains the toxin”.

The CHP offers the following advice to avoid ciguatera food poisoning:

  • Eat less coral reef fish;
  • Eat small amounts of coral reef fish at any one meal and avoid having a whole fish feast in which all the dishes come from the same big coral reef fish;
  • Avoid eating the head, skin, intestines and roe of coral reef fish, which usually have a higher concentration of toxins;
  • When eating coral reef fish, avoid consuming alcohol, peanuts or beans as they may aggravate ciguatoxin poisoning;
  • Seek medical treatment immediately should symptoms of ciguatoxin fish poisoning appear; and
  • Coral reef fish should be purchased from reputable and licensed seafood shops. Do not buy the fish when the source is doubtful.

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About the Author

- Writer, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch. Robert has been covering news in the areas of health, world news and politics for a variety of online news sources. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the website, Outbreak News Today and hosts the podcast, Outbreak News Interviews on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify Robert is politically Independent and a born again Christian Follow @bactiman63

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