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Characteristic Features and Contributory Factors in Fatal Ciguatera Fish Poisoning—Implications for Prevention and Public Education

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  • Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Drug and Poisons Information Bureau, Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, Faculty of Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Prince of Wales Hospital, Hong Kong, China; Centre for Food and Drug Safety, Faculty of Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China

In this review, the main objective was to describe the characteristic features of fatal ciguatera fish poisoning and identify contributory factors, with a view to promote prevention and public education. Ciguatera-related deaths, although rare, have been reported from the Pacific, Caribbean, and Indian Ocean regions. The clinical features were generally dominated by convulsions and coma, with various focal neurological signs. Several contributory factors could be identified, including consumption of ciguatoxin (CTX)-rich fish parts (viscera and head) in larger amounts, the most ciguatoxic fish species (e.g., Gymnothorax flavimarginatus) and reef fish collected after storms and individuals' susceptibility. Mass ciguatera fish poisoning with mortalities also occurred when G. flavimarginatus and other ciguatoxic fish species were shared in gatherings and parties. The characteristic features of fatal ciguatera fish poisoning must be recognized early. The public should be repeatedly reminded to avoid eating the most ciguatoxic fish species and the CTX-rich parts of reef fish. To prevent mass poisoning in gatherings and parties, the most ciguatoxic fish species and potentially toxic fish species must be avoided. Particularly after hits by disastrous storms, it is important to monitor the toxicity of reef fish and the incidence rates of ciguatera.

Author Notes

* Address correspondence to Thomas Y. K. Chan, Division of Clinical Pharmacology, Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, Faculty of Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong-Prince of Wales Hospital, Shatin, New Territories, Hong Kong, China. E-mail: tykchan@cuhk.edu.hk

Financial support: This work is supported by research funding from the Centre for Food and Drug Safety, Faculty of Medicine, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.

Authors' addresses: Thomas Y. K. Chan, Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Drug and Poisons Information Bureau, Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, Faculty of Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Prince of Wales Hospital, Shatin, New Territories, Hong Kong, China, and Centre for Food and Drug Safety, Faculty of Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China, E-mail: tykchan@cuhk.edu.hk.

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