Vanuatu reports ciguatera cases; puffer fish kills 1 in Malaysia

Vanuatu reports ciguatera cases; puffer fish kills 1 in Malaysia

Almost 30 cases of ciguatera fish poisoning have been recorded so far this year in Vanuatu.

The 27 patients range in age from 6 to 67 years old with the majority aged 35 and older. More men than women have been affected. No deaths have been recorded, said the country’s Ministry of Health.

Most cases consumed unspecified reef fish but 16 percent ate snapper and 15 percent had grouper. Ciguatera toxin does not affect the appearance, odor, or taste of fish. Freezing or cooking fish once it has been contaminated will not kill the toxin.

Ciguatera is a foodborne disease caused by naturally occurring toxins in reef fish. These fish accumulate naturally occurring ciguatoxins through their diet. More than 60 cases of ciguatera fish poisoning were reported in 2022.

So far this year, 17 cases are from Efate, six from Maewo, two from Ambrym, and one each from Ambae, Pentecost, and Santo.

Symptoms usually develop three to six hours after eating contaminated fish and can last a few days. Poisoning can cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, dehydration, severe diarrhea, cardiovascular problems like an irregular pulse or low blood pressure, and neurological effects including itching, tingling, or blurred vision. Others find cold things hot and hot items feel cold.

The Vanuatu Ministry of Health said it was continuing to monitor the situation and told people to avoid eating large fish from certain reef areas and to check with the nearest fisheries department to determine which fish present the highest risk. It also promoted awareness programs in communities focusing on prevention measures.

Pufferfish in Malaysia
Meanwhile, a woman has died in Malaysia after eating puffer fish, according to media reports.

The 83-year-old woman fell ill after eating the fish in late March and her husband was also hospitalized.

Pufferfish, also known as globefish, fugu, or blowfish, may contain tetrodotoxin. This toxin is not destroyed by cooking or freezing. To make it safe, fish must be cleaned and prepared so that organs containing toxins are removed and do not cross-contaminate the edible flesh of the fish.

Patients with tetrodotoxin poisoning usually develop symptoms within 30 minutes to six hours of ingestion. These may include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, numbness in the face, muscle weakness and slurred speech, and cardiovascular effects including hypotension, bradycardia, and arrhythmia. 

New food safety hub
Finally, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) have launched a Fisheries Food Safety Hub.

The purpose is to increase accessibility to food safety compliance materials for the sector in the Caribbean. It includes guides and manuals, training videos, infographics, and policy documents covering the fisheries value chain: pre-harvest, harvest, and post-harvest. 

“Having ready access to current scientifically-based information on a timely basis is fundamental for strengthening compliance with international sanitary and phytosanitary measures and ultimately contributes towards improved market access and trade in the Caribbean region,” said Jose Urdaz, head of IICA’s Agricultural Health, Food Safety, and Quality Program.

Resources were developed in a project with funding from the European Union.

Milton Haughton, executive director of CRFM, said: “The Fisheries Food Safety Hub is a very important development and will be beneficial to all our stakeholders in the CARIFORUM countries -from producers to consumers, as well as national and regional regulatory authorities with responsibility for ensuring safe and wholesome supplies of fish and fishery products to local markets, and for monitoring the implementation and compliance with trading measures and standards to promote sustainable trade.” 

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