Seafood is often hailed as being among the most healthy foods available, and in the majority of cases, this is correct.  There are dangers, however, that are unique to eating seafood.  These dangers are in the adulterants (or contaminants) that can be found in seafood, and include Ciguatera, Vibrio and Scombroid poisoning.  In the case of these adulterants, while rare, seafood poisoning can be life threatening.

Vibrio Bacteria – a Warm Water Bacteria in, Among Other Places, the Gulf of Mexico

Vibrio vulnificus (V. vulnificus) and Vibrio parahaemolyticus (V. parahaemolyticus) are bacteria that are found in the  warm coastal waters, including the Gulf of Mexico.  Cases of Vibrio are usually in the summer, as the water is warmer and this leads to higher concentrations of the bacteria.  Although healthy people may be resistant (to a degree), in those with a weaker immune system, Vibrio can cause sepsis (a blood contamination with bacteria), and in those cases it is fatal in about half of its victims.

How do people get Vibrio?  Like any bacteria, it comes in undercooked items, such as raw or undercooked shell dish.  Vibrio is killed when cooked to the proper temperature.  The onset can be in 2 hours (in the case of Vibrio parahaemolyticus) or up to seven days in the case of Vibrio vulnificus.  It causes diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and can cause sudden chills, fever, shock and even skin lesions in people who have a weaker immune system.

Health experts, warning of Vibrio, encourage people to only eat thoroughly cooked oysters.

Ciguatera is a Heat-Stable Toxin that is Concentrated in Fish Organs

Ciguatera is a dangerous adulterant that is not killed by heat.  As such, it can be in raw or cooked fish, usually larger fish, such as barracuda, grouper, red snapper, eel, amberjack, sea bass, and Spanish mackerel that congregate around reefs.  These fish eat the smaller fish and the toxin builds up in their systems.  The toxin is odorless, tasteless, and cannot be seen.

Ingestion of Ciguatera causes nausea, painful defecation, vomiting, pain, cardiac and neurological illness, and can be life-threatening, though deaths are relatively rare amongst the 50,000 world-wide cases every year.  Some of the more unique side-effects of Ciguatera are: lingual and circumoral paresthesias; painful paresthesias of the extremities, paradoxical temperature reversal (eg, cold objects feel hot and hot objects feel cold; classic symptom); dental pain (teeth feel loose); pruritus; arthralgias; myalgias and weakness; ataxia, vertigo, respiratory paralysis; and coma.

Scombroid – a Histamine Toxin that Comes from Eating Spoiled Fish

Scombroid is not a traditional adulterant, but rather comes from the presence of Histidine, an amino acid, that converts to a toxin in spoiled fish.  It is often found in mahi-mahi, mackerels, amberjack, tunas, and bonitos, and is not killed by heat because it is not a living pathogen.  Even properly cooked fish can have the Histamine Toxin as it is the process of it becoming spoiled that converts the otherwise inert substance into toxin that causes severe illness.  Unlike most food borne illness, the primary side-effects are not gastro-intestinal in nature, and often ingestion of the toxin is mistaken for an allergic reaction.

The onset is very rapid, making a person ill in as little as 10 minutes to a half-hour.  People with asthma are often prone to more severe reactions, such as respiratory distress or attacks of bronchospasms or wheezing.    The signs of Scombroid can be facial flushing or sweating, a burning peppery taste in the throat and mouth, dizziness and nausea, headaches and tachycardia, and cold-like symptoms.  It can also lead to blurred vision and swelling of the tongue or throat.

For more information about Vibrio, Scombroid, or Ciguatera, call and speak to a food poisoning at 1-888-335-4901.