Mackerel off the menu for Nicki

NICKI Smith has always loved a good feed of fish but unfortunately she will have to abstain from what she has always considered a healthy treat for a while.

Struck down with what is believed to be a case of ciguatera poisoning, Nicki has spent the past week undergoing countless tests before a clinical diagnosis was made.

Eating only a tiny piece of fish that had come off a 1.2 metre spanish mackerel, Nicki said that within two hours she was feeling unwell.

"I was sweating with a metallic taste in my mouth and I couldn't feel the difference between hot and cold or understand what Tony (Nicki's partner) was saying," she said.

In a case that fuses the links in the food chain, ciguatera poisoning is believed to be caused in humans by eating a big fish that ate a little fish that ate an algae-laden leaf, harbouring the culprit, Gambierdiscus toxicus, a benthic dinoflagellate species. Concentration of the toxin occurs up the food chain, so by the time we eat our tasty morsel, the levels are at their highest.

Ciguatera poisoning has been documented for centuries, always associated with the consumption of warm water fish in specific locations. Hundreds of cases are reported each year in Queensland and it has affected Pacific Islanders for centuries. Captain Cook and his crew contracted ciguatera poisoning near Vanuatu from a catch of red bass, and last year a family feast of red bass caught at a reef off Lucinda in North Queensland ended in all reporting symptoms of ciguatera poisoning.

To minimise the risk of ciguatera poisoning, awareness of ciguatera outbreaks and locations is the most important factor and it is advised any large, warm water predatory fish over 6kg be treated with suspicion and to avoid eating the head, roe or liver.

Ciguatera is usually associated with coral reef habitats and is particularly prevalent in areas that have been disrupted by pollution from industry, agricultural and human effluent and damage from cyclones, although not all damaged reefs are affected.



Do not eat the most suspect species such as Chinaman and Red Bass

Avoid fish from areas that have undergone habitat disturbance, whether natural or human induced.

Avoid fish harvested from the windward side of an oceanic island.

Avoid eating moray eels.

Never eat the internal organs, especially the liver and gonads of reef fish

Try to avoid eating the same species frequently. If in doubt, stick to estuarine fish such as barramundi, flathead, whiting and bream


Mild cases: Diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.

Extreme cases: Numbness and tingling sensation in the extremities. Reversal of hot and cold sensations, low heart rate and blood pressure, rashes. Death through respiratory failure.

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