Clinical diagnosis and chemical confirmation of ciguatera fish poisoning in New South Wales, Australia

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Communicable diseases intelligence quarterly report, 2016, 40 (1), pp. E1 - E6
Issue Date:
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Ciguatera fish poisoning is common in tropical and sub-tropical areas and larger fish (> 10 kg) are more susceptible to toxin accumulation with age. Although the coastal climate of northern New South Wales is considered sub-tropical, prior to 2014 there has only been 1 documented outbreak of ciguatera fish poisoning from fish caught in the region. During February and March 2014, 2 outbreaks of ciguatera fish poisoning involved 4 and 9 individuals, respectively, both following consumption of Spanish mackerel from northern New South Wales coastal waters (Evans Head and Scotts Head). Affected individuals suffered a combination of gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms requiring hospital treatment. At least 1 individual was symptomatic up to 7 months later. Liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry detected the compound Pacific ciguatoxin-1B at levels up to 1.0 µg kg(-1) in fish tissue from both outbreaks. During April 2015, another outbreak of ciguatera fish poisoning was reported in 4 individuals. The fish implicated in the outbreak was caught further south than the 2014 outbreaks (South West Rocks). Fish tissue was unavailable for analysis; however, symptoms were consistent with ciguatera fish poisoning. To our knowledge, these cases are the southernmost confirmed sources of ciguatera fish poisoning in Australia. Educational outreach to the fishing community, in particular recreational fishers was undertaken after the Evans Head outbreak. This highlighted the outbreak, species of fish involved and the range of symptoms associated with ciguatera fish poisoning. Further assessment of the potential for ciguatoxins to occur in previously unaffected locations need to be considered in terms of food safety.
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