Health officials looking into possible ciguatera fish poisoning


Health officials are looking into and will be conducting an investigation on the recent possible ciguatera fish poisoning on Saipan last week.

According to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. and the Division of Public Health, they have “collected all patient information and have done an investigation to be compiled as soon as all pertinent information have been gathered for Epi review and mitigation needed.”

DPH-Bureau of Environmental Health officer John Tagabuel said preliminary report showed that the fish was eaten at an unregulated restaurant.

“Let me be clear, the preliminary report gathered by CHCC Epi-team as reported in CHCC ER daily entries indicates that fish was eaten at a BEH none regulated venue,” Tagabuel said.

Tagabuel said that there were nine individuals involved in the incident.

“All nine individuals ate the same fish. All nine were seen at CHCC-ER and subsequently released. Eight of the nine individuals are identified as tourists. The symptoms fit classical case of ciguatera, as in diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain,” Tagabuel said. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health states that ciguatera fish poisoning, or ciguatera, is an illness caused by eating fish that contain toxins produced by a marine microalgae called Gambierdiscus toxicus.

“People who have ciguatera may experience nausea, vomiting, and neurologic symptoms such as tingling fingers or toes. They also may find that cold things feel hot and hot things feel cold. Ciguatera has no cure. Symptoms usually go away in days or weeks but can last for years,” CDC said.

However, Tagabuel said that this hasn’t been confirmed with the victims yet.

“At this point, that hasn’t been confirmed with any of the ill-individuals,” Tagabuel said.

He added that descriptions of the victims of the fish they ate seem to fit that of a barracuda, but no confirmation if this type of fish indeed caused the food poisoning.

“The individuals described the eaten fish in the ER report. It appears to fit the description of a barracuda,” Tagabuel said.

“Barracuda is a known predatory bottom feeder species. It’s common knowledge that barracuda is highly toxic,” he added.

CDC-NCEH also lists barracuda to have been known to carry ciguatoxins—along with black grouper, blackfin snapper, cubera snapper, dog snapper, greater amberjack, hogfish, horse-eye jack, king mackerel, and yellowfin grouper, among others.

Tagabuel said BEH has been planning to conduct outreach to the local tour guide regarding potentially toxic fish.

“Unfortunately, at this stage, BEH haven’t conducted the outreach to local tour guide or company to educate them on the potentially toxic fish,” Tagabuel said.

Frauleine S. Villanueva-Dizon | Reporter
Frauleine Michelle S. Villanueva was a broadcast news producer in the Philippines before moving to the CNMI to pursue becoming a print journalist. She is interested in weather and environmental reporting but is an all-around writer. She graduated cum laude from the University of Santo Tomas with a degree in Journalism and was a sportswriter in the student publication.

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