Travel Health

Toxic Seafood

Food borne illnesses

People who travel are naturally adventurous. They are explorers and enjoy trying new things. This also includes eating new and different foods. To me, eating new and local foods when I travel is one of the most exciting and fun parts! There are a few illnesses that you can get from eating food, other than traveler’s diarrhea.

Scromboid is an allergic reaction people get from eating certain types of fish that are not prepared well. This involves a substance called Histamine. You may know this from allergy medicines that are anti-histamines. Histamines cause puffy, watery and itchy eyes, runny noses and swelling. Sever reactions can cause the throat to tighten so much that air cannot get into the lungs! When fish in the Scromboidea family (tuna, mackerel, skipjack and bonito) are killed and not quickly processed, the flesh can release large amounts of Histamine. When people eat this fish flesh they also eat large amounts of histamine. The symptoms include tingling and paresthesia (pins and needles feeling) around the mouth and arms. Symptoms usually resolve in 12 hours, on their own (self-limiting). For a bad reaction, anti-histamine medicine such as allergy pills work great.

Ciguatera poisoning is gotten from eating reef fish such as barracudas. Any reef fish that eats other fish may carry this risk, though. The symptoms of this illness begin with GI symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, usually within a day of eating the fish. Weakness in the legs is also common. Very severe cases may progress to coma and respiratory failure. Most patients recover in a few days to a week. The cause of this is a tiny organism called Gambierdiscus Toxicus that grow on the reefs. Smaller fish eat this stuff and when the larger, predatory, reef fish eat many of the smaller fish, the toxins accumulate in the larger fish. Humans eat the bigger fish and there is an accumulation of this toxin in the fish flesh. Mannitol (a diuretic medicine) can be lifesaving in severe cases. More about this can be read at this link:
Gambierdiscus Toxicus PDF Article

Paralytic Shellfish poisoning is just like them name sounds. You get it from eating mollusks (shellfish like bivalve mussels) and it causes paralysis. People generally suffer from paresthesia (pins and needles feeling) of the mouth and extremities (arms and legs) that lasts 1-2 days after the eating the shellfish. The symptoms usually begin with hours after ingestion. This is caused by Saxitoxins gathering in the shellfish. These Saxitoxins are associated with massive algae blooms know as “red tides”. When these shellfish are gathered by fisherman, the USA, Canada, Japan and Europe have mandatory screening for this toxin.

Puffer Fish Poisoning is a rare problem in Japan. There, Fugu is a special delicacy eaten in sushi bars. Fugu is a puffer fish that contains a poison called Tetrodotoxin. The poison can cause paralysis and death by respiratory failure, if not prepared by a highly trained chef. If you are going to try this…make sure you go to a reputable restaurant that has a lot of experience with this food. A good link to learn more about this is at:
Tokyo Cube Fugu Page

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