During our peacefully calm night crossing from Vieques to Culebra we were trolling two fishing lines behind the boat, in the hopes to catch ourselves a yummy, free, meal and also to make Edric and Kristin’s trip excellent by adding “ocean fishing” to their sailing experience. As dawn broke we felt the line vibrate and the next hour was spent reeling in the catch as we bobbed along our course. When it got to the boat we were surprised at its smallish size considering the fight it gave, and couldn’t quite identify the type of fish it was. It looked like the shape of a small mahi with the colors of a tuna. Once we arrived in Vieques and were all settled in, Eben went online and spent about an hour trying to identify this mystery fish, but no luck.
Our guest prepared the fish for us for supper. The meat resembled chicken in texture, quite thick and heavy, nothing like we had ever eaten before. The evening went on as usual. Girls went to bed, we hung out, played some games, and headed to bed ourselves. That is when the, what seemed like, timed-released poison set in. When we got to bed Ellia woke up complaining of sore legs. I spent the next half hour rubbing her legs thinking maybe she was experiencing growing pains. But not long after Arias coughed, in her “I am going to throw up” type of cough, so Eben whipped her out of bed and stood her in front of the toilet just in time. We got her back to bed and then she started complaining that her legs were sore. That’s when Eben started feeling queazy, went out into the salon, only to find both of our guests up and not feeling well either. Then my legs started aching as well. Instantly we assumed it was the fish, and thought, food poisoning. The rest of the night was spent with 4 adults and 2 kids all getting sick on a boat with only two toilets to use. The boat looked like one that was being attacked by an evil poison. There were people sleeping outside, throwing up over board, every bed was covered in towels in case of spontaneous erruptions, and every bowl, bucket, and pot was being used as a vomit receptacle. Other than everyone exploding from both ends, we were experiencing some other very strange symptoms, such as sore joints, muscle spasms, tingling sensations, mixed up temperature sensations, confused taste buds, sore gums and teeth, headaches, and slight hallucinations.
All of the above made for a horrible sleepless night for everyone, except Arias. Thankfully after her first bought of sickness she seemed to have gotten it out of her system and slept the rest of the night, while everyone else writhed in pain. At about 10am, Eben managed to muster up a tiny bit of energy and went into to town with a picture of the fish, for a second attempt at trying to identify that deathly thing. Looking back on the situation it was ridiculously stupid of us to eat it without knowing what it was, but considering it was a smaller fish, and not a reef fish, we thought we were ok. Eben found a couple of locals that recognized the culprit, it is what they call a Jurel, also known as a Big Eyed Jack. They told him that normally around other islands that fish would be no problem to eat, but since it was caught off the coast of Vieques none of them would eat it. They blame the waters around Vieques to be contaminated, and intoxicating all the fish with ciguatera, due to the Navy’s use of the area, with its plethora of ordinances in the water. Even if the fish identifying guides say that Jack is ok to eat, all the locals say it’s a BIG no-no. They immediately told Eben to go gather us up and bring us to the hospital, mostly for the baby’s sake, as they feared dehydration from all of our relentless sickness.
The staff at the Culebra hospital were great at helping us out. Both Ellia, and our guest Edric, were hooked up to IVs to pump some fluids back into them and give them some meds to stop the hourly evacuation of “you know what”. They also informed us that they were certain that ciguatera was the toxin that we ingested from the fish, and all the symptoms affiliated to it. And they were spot on, at least one of us had experienced every side effect they were saying. The doctor also told us that locals won’t eat 90% of the fish caught off the coast of Vieques, good to know. Wish someone would’ve told us that a day sooner and saved us this nightmare. Another nightmare we were not looking forward to was the hospital bill, being that this is a US territory and we are uninsured. But to our amazement, and a wonderful receptionist at the hospital, the bill for two ambulance rides (yes they picked us up and dropped us off) as well as the meds, and the doctor’s visit, came to a total of $20US. insert “sigh of relief”.
|Ellia hooked up to her IV|
Since the intoxication, we have done a lot of research on ciguatera as we were obviously not fully informed. We thought it occurred mostly in reef fish and that it is a cumulative poison that once you have reached a certain level you get sick. But this is not entirely true. It can occur in reef fish, fin fish, and shell fish as well. The fin fish that may be affected are the ones that may have come in contact with artificial reefs, otherwise known as human junk that has been left in the water, and the shellfish one is actually referred to as Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning (NSP) rather than ciguatera but has many similar symptoms. And one fish may have enough toxin in it to make you sick the first time you ever come in contact with ciguatera, such as our guests who had never eaten ocean fresh fish before. To our horror its symptoms can last days, weeks, months, and in some extreme cases, years after the poisoning. To help not have a relapse they recommend staying away from all fish, chicken, pork, caffeine, alcohol, exercise, and anything that could dehydrate you. They say that many other, non-fish, foods can retriguer the original symptoms, minus the vomiting and diarrhea. From what we got of it, good luck living and eating without the possibility of feeling this crappy at some point again. As we are still living our day to day with the sucky aftermath of eating that fish, we worry what type of effects it will have on our baby, who at only 19months got ciguatera. Who knows what the havoc that was reaped on her mini body could mean for her in the long run.
The following few days after consuming that evil, evil fish have been a very slow road to recovery and still getting caught off guard by the strange symptoms that are persisting. These include all drinking fluids having the feeling of being carbonated, the hot/cold senses being confused, the sore joints and muscles, the all over itchy skin, and the constant headaches. We are all pretty lethargic as we are slowly getting food and energy back into our systems. And the boat still looks like there was a crew of sickies on it, but we are managing to clean it up one tiny piece at a time. I do feel horrible for the poor man that took our two bags of dirty clothes, sheets, and towels; he is getting to relive our ciguatera in a whole other way.
With enough energy in our systems to regain a sense of humour we know half laugh, and half complain, about how crazy we must look. With Eben constantly swinging his arms around to try and ease the pins and needles, Ellia walking around playing with her numb lips and tongue, me scratching my imaginary itches all over and repeatedly squeezing my hands to make them feel somewhat normal, and Arias just being Arias, we look like we are all certifiable. I don’t know how much longer of this we can take, so if the next time we meet we seem a little off, the ciguatera might have made us itch ourselves to madness.
|Look at it, it even looks evil…why did we eat that!|
Here is an interesting link that we found some good info on ciguatera, (also info on shellfish intoxication), as well as fish to avoid, and how some reef fish are becoming affected because of artificial reefs. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2579736/
WOW, this is really terrible. I've only been following your blog for a short while, and this is a sad and scary tangle in your happy adventure. I hope that you all feel better soon and experience no long-term difficulties.
thank you for following, and for the well wishes. It has been a pretty crappy sickness to have and we can't wait for it to be out of our systems.
I am so sorry to hear that you got ciguatera and hope all of you have a quick recovery with little lingering side effects. I got it in 2006 in the Bahamas. Thought I knew what fish to avoid too. I ended up being flown back to the states and spent several days in the hospital. It was months before the weird nerve symptoms disappeared. Random tingling, buzzing, twitching, and aching persisted for quite awhile. I still have frequent joint pains but have no idea if it is at all connected. Good thing, I have had no problems with eating any seafood, or any food since then. I just am a little more careful. I really hope your entire family and crew have short experience with this. And thanks for sharing the information about vieques. I will spread it on as well. Feel well soon!
Deborah (s/v Wrightaway)
Two days ago I was so happy because I was feeling better, and then yesterday I got the worst headache I have had in my entire life, brought me to tears. We cannot wait for this to be over. It is so hard to wrap our brains around because you just don't know how long it is going to last. The girls seem to be doing much better than us, and I am extremely thankful for that.
I'm sorry to hear that you are still suffering with it. The randomness of the symptoms and, like you said, the uncertainty of duration were hard to accept. Hang in there. Glad to hear the girls are bouncing back fast fast, though.
Let us know if you guys need anything!!! We are anchored over by the little island in the bay (Culebra). Jessica (on Callisto)
Thank you, we are surviving, taking the girls on small trips,to the library or the playpark, to keep them busy while we all recoup.
Wow – glad you guys are feeling better!!
Oh we are not fully better yet, but at least there is no more mass "evacuations". Just the annoying symptoms that can sometimes be quite painful. I hardly ever take Tylenol but this has been a major exception
I just found your beautiful blog unfortunately during ciguatera research. I unwittingly fed my two year old tainted grouper three days ago and she is clearly suffering the symptoms. Although the evacuations and vomiting have not happened, the nervous system is acting up horribly. Did Ellia make a full recovery. Any tips for day 3? Hope you all are well.
I am so sorry to hear that this is happening to you guys too. Yes both our daughters are now fully recovered, but it took a while before they stopped showing nervous system symptoms. I think it was at least 2-3 months of recovery time. At least, while they were recovering the symptoms seemed to lessen in strength and frequency. We gave the girls a lot of gatorade (if you have Smart water, or other electrolytes at hand those are probably better for the little one, since gatorade is full of sugar too, but that is all we had available) to keep the fluids up. And with foods we took it slow. The doctor had told us nothing with lots of salt or fat for the first couple of days, think bland is better. Sadly enough, to help with all the painful symptoms, our girls were taking very regular doses of children's tylenol, to numb the neuro receptors and stop the aches. It was pretty much the most we could do for them. And no fish for a while. I hope your little one gets better soon, I remember it breaking my heart watching Ellia and Arias in such pain. Good Luck, and write if you have any questions at all.
Guys start taking b-12 methylcobalamin shots…they help tremendously, u need a script and it has to be filled at a acompunding pharmacy…start it immediately
i have taken it for two years and it has done wonders
thankfully, from what we can tell our symptoms have all faded away now. It's possible that a few of the mundane symptoms, like headaches or muscle pain get confused for something else, but all in all we are back to normal, but it did take a good 4 months for them to fade. Thanks for the recommendation though.
Just ran Into your blog in my research of ciguatera. Seven out of the 12 of us got it while in the DOMINICAN in November 2014. Still suffering and am going crazy. I am a healthy active mother of five and I feel like I am 80 years old. The smallest thing wears me out, my whole body aches, the joint in my wrist just started up, itching, cold drinks are brutal to drink, and the hot/ cold reversal is driving me insane! One girl was pregnant…. Just barely with her first… We are hoping it won't cross over to the baby!!! I have been avoiding fish chicken pork nuts caffeine and alcohol since we got home I've been to the doctor and they said lots of vitamin b and put me in GABAPENTIN for the nerve pain. I am praying this ends soon. I miss being active…. But the slightest thing I do causes me to get extremely itchy and the muscle fatigue is insane! Glad to meet people that get what you're going through! And nice to hear a time frame!!!! Thanks. Emily
Oh emily I feel for you. We had about a month of intense symptoms, and then about 4 months until returning to almost normal. I can say that we are 100% a year later. I know that sounds like forever, especially when you are sick. I remember thinking "when is this going to end". Good luck to all of you guys that got sick.
Your story has struck home with me. I traveled on a cruise to Southeast Asia. I ate fish at least 20 nights.
That was April of 2017. As of today, four months later, I still experience all the symptoms. I have been to
numerous Dr’s. I was finally diagnosed at Stanford University with ciguatera. I have found no vitamins or
alternative herbs to change the symptoms. Some days I am very weak, dizzy, my tongue tingling and
numbing. My entire left side arm and down leg become very weak and my knee buckles and I have
fallen. This is one bad poison. I will never eat any fish again.
let me know how you are doing
We are all 100% again. Of course there are some random times when we have aches and wonder if they are from the ciguatera or just normal aches. But overall I would say we are completely better. Best of luck to you, it was definitely a painful experience for us.
I just got back from a trip to the Bahamas where I believe I picked this up. How long did it take you feel 100%?
Thank you so much in advance!
We had our symptoms for about 6 months. I hope yours wear off soon, it was definitely no fun.
Hi, I read your blog with interest as I too got ciguatera poisoning from eating fish in New Caledonia. This was in 2003 and I am still suffering with neurological problems. I did however have some episodes of neurological issues previous to this so the ciguatera will have compounded these. I’m interested that Lynn was tested, I am in the UK and don’t know if anyone would be able to test or if it would be worth it after all these years. I was never tested or treated at the time, it was the locals that diagnosed me as I had the classic symptoms of muscle pain, burning, reverse sensations, fatigue and confusion. I am trialling high doses of Vitamin B12 at the moment, I’ve managed to convince my neurologist to let me try it in case I have a deficiency. But now I am fascinated to find references to B12 as possible treatment for ciguatera toxicity. In the UK it is hydroxocobalamin that is used so I have alternate day injections of this but I have also got some methylcobalamin to take as a nasal spray along with adenosylcobalamin.
I’m so pleased to read that you have all made such a good recovery.
I hope that your treatment is working for you. The ciguatera symptoms are so horrible. Thankfully we have all recovered from them, but since it stays in your system for life, there are always those moments when we get a random headache or muscle aches and wonder, “Is it from the ciguatera?”
I had to figure out I had this on my own. Started in July 2017. 3 hospital visits and thousands in tests, left me poorer and still extremely ill. You see, I was still eating the fish, and many other types of fish as my main source of protein. It got so bad I had extreme hypotension, arrhythmia’s, paralytic attacks in the middle of the night, difficulty breathing, and developed polyneuropathy. NONE of the doctors would listen to what I was saying – they kept telling me drops in BP that low were “normal”, “Have you considered an anxiety disorder?”, “Sounds like panic attacks”… so on and so on. Finally, after a year and a half, I decided to stop eating everything EXCEPT fruits and veggies. Once the attacks had stopped (paralytic attacks took about 3 weeks), I started adding things back into my diet. As soon as I added fish, bam. Within hours I was ill, my BP had dropped to 69/48, heart rate skyrocketed then dropped, and my temp was 95.8. Since it could have been a “coincidence”, I waited a few weeks and tried it again, Worse reaction and those paralytic attacks for days. Since I stopped eating fish, my symptoms are getting better. I still have BP issues, my HR is still erratic, and I have lingering polyneuropathy, fatigue, insomnia, blurred vision, muscle cramps and spasms – but on the whole, I’m doing better. It’s been 4 months now. Not sure if I’ll ever fully recover. Ciguatera is cumulative and lord knows I was adding to it 4 times a week. And even now that my doctors know what was causing the problems, they just say hey, great job figuring it out! No guidance. I don’t even think they know what it is. If it wasn’t for Google I might have landed myself in an early grave.
It is a crazy sickness. And now every time we get random aches we always wonder, is that the ciguatera flarring up our just a regular headache, or sore muscles, etc. I am so glad that you trusted your gut and found the cause of your problems. We were lucky that we were in Puerto Rico where it is a rather common illness, so they knew right away what we had.
So, you include a non-clickable “helpful” link at the bottom on a page that does not allow copy and paste. Not terribly helpful. Code like this on your page prevents selecting text:
Maybe you think you are keeping people from copying your website, but all you are doing is making it more difficult to use. And to what end? Maybe your theme did this without you knowing, maybe you can disable it.
Hey Mark, I think I fixed it. I made the link clickable anyways. I had no idea that there was a block on “copy and paste” on the blog, and I will try and figure out where it is coming from so I can disable it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
Any other suggestions as to how to rid this toxin from your body? Do you have to be hospitalized? I am pretty sure that I consumed fish on vacation that has led to this condition. My doctor told me about Ciguetera and advised that I do some research. My symptoms have been mild but he did not tell me to stay away from alcohol, chicken, nuts or caffeine! It has taken me some time to realize that the symptoms are related to these things that are normal. I have eliminated fish and all other seafood from my diet and alcohol really hasn’t been top priority so when I did have half a glass of wine and the symptoms started I knew something was wrong
Is there nothing that can rid this out of your system other than time? I have not gone back to the doctor, have not received any treatment only dealing with the symptoms such as exhaustion, muscle weakness, lack of appetite, itchy skin, cold/numbness in hands and face etc. I have 3 kids and a business to run…no time for this!! HELP!!!
Oh I feel for you. It was horrible going through the ciguatera. We did not come up with any remedies. We pretty much were taking tylenol non-stop for 6 months as we had the symptoms. It was horrible watching our daughters in pain. Muscle rubs (like Tiger Balm) help with some of the pain. I really hope your symptoms go away soon.
Hi, came across your blog. Thank you for posting this. So we are sick currently. Four of us. We think it’s Ciguatera. The weird thing is that none of us had vomiting or bathroom issues, just the joint pain, headache, tingling of hands and feet and funny mouth sensation. We also have no energy. Our appetite never affected either. The joint pain, back pain and headache have been awful. So I am just wondering if anyone has had it without the vomiting and bathroom issues.
Hello! I live near Cairns, North QLD, Australia. I’m now experiencing my 2nd dose of poisoning from Spanish mackerel, first was in 2018, and am currently suffering through shocking stomach cramps and diarrhoea after eating mackerel two nights ago. For the 3 years in between I had no symptoms and ate all types of seafood up to 3 times a week. My treatment to cure me the first time was a detox recommended by my naturopath, Dr Lugols iodine and a liver herb, Iberogast. Taken 4 times a day for 4 days, it made me the sickest I’ve ever felt as I detoxed, but on 5th day, I felt completely normal as if it had never happened. I am now doing this same detox again. I have never experienced any of the terrible. nervous system issues, only some slight tingling in hands and feet. Only vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea, fatigue. I also have taken b12 at 5000mg daily for last 6 years as part of my supplements. Perhaps this may have some bearing on being spared the nervous system issues. I wish you the best of luck in your healing, just wanted to share what worked for me and touch wood, this next detox has me feeling much better quicker, as I have got onto it immediately, not like waiting 6 weeks to seek help the first time.