From what I know now, we went through the same thing as most people do, “What The Hell Just Happened” Unfortunately I knew.
Let me give you a little background about myself. I’m 58 years old and was born in Key West, Florida. I’ve known about Ciguatera Poisoning since childhood, my Mom worked at the Casa Marina Hotel and I remember a number of people getting severely ill from eating a large Barracuda, we also ate barracuda back then but from that point on my Dad said never again and we never did.
I’ve been fishing and eating fish my entire life and never got sick. In fact I’ve never personally met anyone in my life with ciguatera symptoms since that time in Key West as a child that got sick.
I still don’t eat barracuda and don’t usually eat larger reef fish like grouper because even though I haven’t thought of Ciguatera for years, I was still aware that larger reef fish were the ones to stay away from.
I’ve been fishing the Bahamas for years; we usually go by boat 4-6 times a year and split those trips between West End, Grand Bahama and Bimini. We spear Hogfish, Grouper, and Snapper, we also anchor and fish for Yellow Tail and any other reef fish that comes along we know are good eating and never got sick.
The fish that ultimately got us was a Hogfish; I got the fish from a friend that was fishing the east end of Grand Bahamas Island, a particular area I’ve never personally fished. He sent me photos of the fish they speared and I was surprised by how big they were, I also remember thinking about the size in the back of my mind.
It was Labor Day 2012, my Wife & I, Daughter and her Boyfriend spent the day out on our boat snorkeling and hanging out. We got back and decided to have the hogfish in the freezer, a strange omen happened at dinner that night; my daughter’s boyfriend asked about Hogfish and I explained that you can only catch them by spear fishing and how we like the taste of Hogfish over any other reef fish. In talking about the Hogfish and any other reef fish we catch or spear our conversation turned to staying away from the larger fish because of Ciguatera. I explained what happened in the Keys as a kid but also said I never heard much about it since. That thought about the size was obviously in the back of my mind because I almost threw the fish away the week prior, I did have a gut feeling but regretfully never acted on it.
As with all the stories I’ve since read on the web the fish tasted great!! About six hours later the diarrhea and vomiting started and lasted throughout the night. I slept as well as I could on the couch, the next morning my Wife told me she also got sick.
I grabbed an ice cold bottle of water and it felt like my hand was burning, I immediately knew something was wrong and suspected it was Ciguatera, I went directly to the computer and starting searching symptoms and there it was, reversal of hot & cold. I told my Wife I was pretty sure we had Ciguatera Poisoning, she was having the same symptoms but they weren’t as prevalent and thought I was crazy.
I text my Daughter to see how they were doing and she said they were up all night getting sick. As the feeling of nausea and diarrhea started to subside the real symptoms started to set in and the Nightmare began!!!
I researched all morning on the web looking for information and found that ciguatera toxin is commonly found in Florida, Hawaii, Caribbean and Pacific Islands. I got a call from my Daughter around noon, she said she was feeling really strange, I told her I was pretty sure we had Ciguatera Poisoning; she ended up going home sick from work.
The ciguatera symptoms got worse as the day went on, itching, sweating, leg muscle pain, tingling, abdominal pain, dizziness to name a few. That night trying to sleep was unbearable, I was sweating so bad I had to change clothes twice, I had trouble breathing, the chills, severe cramps in my legs and was itching like crazy.
About 5am we got a call from my Daughter’s boyfriend saying she was really doing bad, you’re probably wondering why my Wife and Daughter’s boyfriend weren’t going through the same sever symptoms, I’ll discuss that later.
I read the day before about a spinal drug used for a different application, if administered within 72 hours from getting ciguatera toxicity, in some cases completely reversed the symptoms, we were 48 hours in and I decided to take us both to the emergency room. We picked up my Daughter and went to the local hospital here in South Florida. I told the admitting person I suspected we both had Ciguatera Poisoning and he had never heard of it.
He asked a couple of nurses and they had never heard of it either, I explained I was positive this is what we had and told them to search the web for Ciguatera Poisoning. They ended contacting Miami Poison Control and they faxed over a document explaining ciguatera symptoms.
We were admitted and finally spoke to a doctor that knew about Ciguatera. I explained what I had read about the spinal drug and asked if we could get it. Based on the document they received the drug was used in the past but with varying results and recommended we not take the drug because of the possible side effects. He also explained, which I already knew, there was “No Cure”. He told us treatment is mostly supportive and that we should be over the symptoms within a week. That is also what I had read but was concerned about the severe cases that went on for months or years.
My wife and daughter’s boyfriend had symptoms but they weren’t anywhere near what my daughter and I were going through. We cooked the fish by grilling and also fried some. My wife and daughter’s boyfriend had a small amount but my daughter and I had quite a bit, based on research we attributed the symptoms each person had by the amount of fish each person consumed.
As I said earlier the first symptoms included itching, sweating, muscle pain, tingling, abdominal pain and dizziness, the following days a number of new severe symptoms started, severe insomnia, severe constipation, severe respiratory shortness of breath, severe fatigue, dry mouth, constant nonstop itching, feeling cold, headaches, tooth and mouth pain, reversal of hot & cold in the mouth and hands.
From the document faxed to us by poison control it said to avoid fish, shellfish, nuts, coffee, alcohol, chocolate, mushrooms and grains. It also said that exercising could exacerbate the nervous system symptoms and should be avoided for months. Hoping from what I read the normal duration of Ciguatera Poisoning symptoms was 8 to 14 days I assured my daughter we would be over this quickly.
My daughter starting feeling a little better, I personally was feeling worse. The nervous system symptoms were driving me crazy, it felt like little creatures were crawling underneath my skin throughout my entire body, itching and sweating was unbearable , leg cramps, I couldn’t sleep at night and all symptoms mentioned above were severe.
I decided to make a doctor appointment, some research I did on the web suggested there were drugs out there that helped relieve the neuropathy symptoms, I was ready to try anything. At my appointment I came armed with 3 weeks of research for my doctor hoping something in there could help him help me.
My doctor knew of Ciguatera and said as far as he knew the only cure was time. I read this numerous times but was hoping he could recommend something to help relieve the symptoms. He read through the material and decided to go ahead and give me a neurological prescription to hopefully relieve the nervous system symptoms. I took the medication for a few days but it seemed to make me feel even more strange so I stopped.
My daughters symptoms continued to subsided to where she basically still had the reversal of hot and cold and some itching but she was definitely feeling better. All my symptoms were still severe, I started to come to grips that I was going to be the one to have this for the rest of my life and depression started to set in.
I still couldn’t sleep in the same room with my wife, the sweating and insomnia was unbearable. It was difficult to work, I’m in local outside sales, I had to wear an undershirt and extra undergarments because of the severe sweating.
I was extremely depressed and would stay home all day, I literally starting thinking suicidal thoughts; there was no way I could live like this for the rest of my life. My friends and family couldn’t believe I was still suffering from severe symptoms and started to think it was mental, I started to question my on sanity and didn’t know what to do, was it mental!!
I was desperate, I couldn’t believe that a disease I’ve known about for over 50 years didn’t have a more research for a cure or drug treatment for the symptoms. Everything I read always came back full circle to supportive care and time. By accident I found a video on the University of Miami website called Reef or Madness. It’s a 16 minute documentary on Ciguatera Poisoning, I watched it over and over and over, I showed it to my wife, daughter, friends, finally someone else was describing / validating exactly what I was going through!!
Though I’m pretty sure it’s a coincidence I actually started feeling a little better in week 6. My mental outlook was much better after the validation from the video but the symptoms of sweating, itching / tingling and reversal of hot and cold were still prevalent. My wife definitely noticed the difference and that weekend she insisted we get out and take a boat ride, go out to dinner, have a drink, I want my freakin husband back!!
We did get out on the boat and I had a couple of drinks but the symptoms were definitely exacerbated by the alcohol so I stayed away from drinking.
All other major symptoms continued to subside in week 7; I actually started to see a light at the end of the tunnel. The sweating subsided in my upper and lower body but was still prevalent in my feet, itching / tingling, reversal of hot and cold, dry mouth were still prevalent but not as severe.
I finally turned the corner, I still had itching / tingling symptoms and a few others but they were mostly an annoyance, my mental outlook about ultimately getting over this was positive. The reversal of hot and cold to the hands was still there but had subsided in my mouth, I figured if all the other symptoms continue to go away I could live with the reversal of hot and cold.
Throughout this entire ordeal for the past year we had been planning our middle daughter’s wedding in the Florida Keyes. The main menu for the wedding was fish, in fact it was supposed to be Hogfish, we decided to change the menu to Mahi Mahi, after what we went through the idea of even considering eating any reef fish was out of the question.
All four of us ate fish at the wedding, the next day, and for a few days after, I felt a definite increase in my symptoms, itching and tingling over my entire body were the main symptoms and it lasted about a week, my wife, daughter and boyfriend had no symptoms.
In late November we decided to have swordfish (a non-reef fish) and none of us felt any symptoms. I still had Itching and tingling though not severe and reversal of hot and cold in the hands was still prevalent.
I was finally feeling better literally 90 days from the day we got sick. Still had minor symptoms but nothing that stopped me from living a somewhat normal life. I was back to a normal diet, having a few drinks and on occasion eating Non-Reef Fish.
On Dec 8th were out on the boat for the local annual Christmas Boat Parade with friends, one couple brought an Ahi Tuna appetizer, since I was feeling better and it was a non reef fish I decided to go for it, my wife had a few bites but I ate quite a bit. The next morning I woke up feeling prevalent symptoms of itching/ tingling, things crawling under my skin, this lasted about a week. I still had symptoms later in the month though not severe, reversal of hot and cold is still prevalent.
I started exercising and have noticed that it does exasperate the symptoms; they do however subside back to what I experience every day after an hour or so. I still have reversal of hot and cold along with itching / tingling. The symptoms are very frustrating but don’t stop me from going on with my life.
I’m feeling pretty much back to normal with slight symptoms. I still have reversal of hot and cold. Exercising still causes some residual symptoms like itching / tingling but they go away after an hour or so. I had non reef fish a few times this month and didn’t feel any sever symptoms, I’m going to continue eating non reef fish as I really miss not having this in my normal diet, hopefully I won’t regret it.
I’m still feeling good and have reversal of hot & cold but that to has subsided. Exercising still triggers slight symptoms. I’ve had Mahi & Tuna a few times this month and felt minor symptoms of itching & balmy feet, strange but I can’t live without eating fish!!
I spent some time in the Keys fishing & diving with friends this month and ate non reef fish every day. I did feel some itching / tingling symptoms but as stated before not anything that stops me from doing everyday activity. I still have reversal of hot & cold and starting to wonder if that will ever go away, this may be because I’m eating fish again, I just use a koozie when I’m drinking an ice cold beer!!
May / June 2013
This will be my last entry as I feel like I’ve fully recovered, all symptoms except reversal of hot & cold in the hands have gone away and those symptoms are minor. I’ve been eating non reef fish now for a few months and haven’t had any reactions, I’m trying to get the nerve to eat some reef fish again but haven’t been able to cross that bridge yet.
I did speak to a specialist who told me that I shouldn’t of had any fish whatsoever for a year after getting sick, I feel I’ve recovered and will continue to eat non reef fish.
A couple that live here in South Florida contacted me last month and said they both got a pretty severe case from eating grouper & hogfish they caught off Sweetings Cay which is in the east end of the Bahamas. This is the same area the hogfish we ate came from, I personally will never eat any fish from that area again!
Please feel free to contact me if you are going through ciguatera poisoning madness and have any questions or just want to talk with somebody who knows what you’re going through.