A fast and reliable new test under development could help people avoid a terrible type of food poisoning that comes from eating fish tainted with a difficult-to-detect toxin from marine algae growing in warm waters.
The researchers say the method out-does current detection methods. Besides helping diagnose patients, it will also help scientists study how the toxins move through the food chain from one animal to another.
Takeshi Yasumoto, expert in marine biotoxins and professor emeritus at Tohoku University, and colleagues explain that 20,000-60,000 people every year come down with ciguatera poisoning from eating fish tainted with a ciguatoxin — the most common source of food poisoning from a natural toxin.
Fish, such as red snapper and sea bass, get the toxin by eating smaller fish that feast on marine algae that produce the toxin in tropical and subtropical areas, such as the Gulf Coast of the US.
There’s no warning that a fish has the toxin — it smells, looks and tastes fine, reports the journal Analytical Chemistry.
But within hours of ingesting the toxin, people with ciguatera have symptoms that often include vomiting, diarrhoea, numbness or tingling in the arms and legs and muscle and joint aches.
Debilitating symptoms may last for months, according to an American Chemical Society statement.
Yasumoto’s team proved the new test’s effectiveness by identifying 16 forms of the toxin in fish from the Pacific Ocean.