Ciguatera and Scombroid

I used to think that eating healthy was ordering a fish sandwich at McDonalds - John Mellencamp

Ciguatera and Scombroid
Ciguatera and Scombroid

image by: Florida's Poison Control Centers

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Food Poisoning from Fish: Ciguatera and Scombroid

What you can't smell can't hurt you, right? Wrong! Eating some kinds of spoiled fish can cause dramatic symptoms.

Common types of poisoning from spoiled fish include scombroid and ciguatera. Neither type of fish poisoning can be detected by taste or appearance. Neither can be prevented by cooking or freezing the fish. Fish can also be contaminated with chemicals or heavy metals.

Scombroid poisoning is caused by fish which have not been refrigerated properly from the time they were caught until the time they were served. Bacteria act on compounds in the fish, releasing histamine. This accounts for the allergic-type…

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 Food Poisoning from Fish: Ciguatera and Scombroid

Scombroid poisoning is caused by eating spoiled fish. Ciguatera fish poisoning is caused by eating fish which have themselves eaten fish contaminated with ciguatera. Neither type of fish poisoning can be detected by taste or appearance or prevented by cooking or freezing the fish. Treatment is available but symptoms may last for months or years.

Ciguatera Fish Poisoning

People may become ill with ciguatera fish poisoning after eating certain contaminated fish. The ciguatera toxin is created by microalgae that naturally live in warm-water oceans, and this disease has been known for centuries. Ciguatera fish poisoning is probably underreported in the continental United States, since most cases are of short duration and it is not well known outside areas where it is common, such as the Caribbean and Hawaii.

Histamine (Scombroid Poisoning) Fact Sheet

Scombroid food poisoning is caused by ingestion of fish containing high concentrations of histamine, which is a product of the degradation of the amino acid histidine. Histidine can be found freely in the muscles of some fish species and can be degraded to histamine by enzymatic action of some naturally occurring bacteria.

Scombroid poisoning, or histamine fish poisoning, is a type of food poisoning that is similar to symptoms of seafood allergies. The term “scombroid” derives from the type of fish (i.e. Scombridae) first implicated, such as tuna and mackerel. The first report of scombroid poisoning was published in 1830.

International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers

Ciguatera Fish Poisoning is the most common seafood illness reported in travellers. It is caused by eating fish contaminated with ciguatoxins which are produced by dinoflagellates (small marine organisms living on or near coral reefs) belonging to the species Gambierdiscus toxicus. Herbivorous fish feed on these organisms and the ciguatoxins bio-accumulate along the marine food chain to larger predatory fish, usually over 2.7 kg / 6 lbs.


Ciguatera toxin tends to accumulate in predator fish, such as the barracuda and other carnivorous reef fish, because they eat other fish that consume toxin-producing algae (dinoflagellates) that live in coral reef waters. Ciguatera toxin is harmless to fish but poisonous to humans.

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