DOH Identifies Several Cases of Ciguatera Fish Poisoning in Ulua

April 19, 2018, 3:15 PM HST · Updated April 19, 3:15 PM

Image credit: Hawaii Dept. of Land and Natural Resources

The State of Hawaiʻi Department of Health recently identified several cases of ciguatera fish poisoning from ingestion of giant trevally, known as ulua, that has been caught off the Northwest Coast of the Big Island.

The DOH says symptoms usually begin within a few minutes to 6 hours after ingesting an infected tropical reef fish and that the toxin is not destroyed by freezing or heating the fish.

Symptoms can include numbness, tingling, or a burning sensation around mouth, hands, or feet; joint or muscle pains with weakness or cramps; vomiting, diarrhea, chills, itching, headache, sweating, and dizziness; reversal of temperature sensation in the mouth, unusual taste sensations; nightmares, or hallucinations.

Ciguatera fish poisoning is caused by a poison called ciguatoxin. The poison is found in marine algae, seaweed, or coral. Fish after consuming algae or seaweed become infected. Lager predator fish become carriers by eating smaller fish.


Although the most recent cases have been on the Big Island, the DOH says ciguatera and can be found on each of the Hawaiian Islands.

To prevent ciguatera fish poisoning, the DOH says to not eat the head, guts, liver or roe (eggs) of any reef fish. Cooking, drying, salting, or freezing does not kill the poison causing ciguatera fish poisoning.

The fish implicated since 2016 have been: Uku (Green jobfish), Kole (surgeon fight), Hawaiian Sea Bass, Hawaiian Black Triggerfish, Ulua, Eel, Barracuda, and Amberjack.

DOH officials say the treatment is mainly supportive. It is recommended to avoid eating fish, fish sauces, shellfish, alcohol, and nuts for several months after the incident.

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