I want to share some very important information with you, that I hope you will share with your friends as well. Most people are not aware of what I am about to share and that is why I want to get this information to as many people as I can.
One month ago I traveled on vacation to Saint Maarten in the Caribbean. I always look forward to eating fresh seafood and enjoying the local cuisine. The food on Saint Maarten was wonderful, however, one night after enjoying a lovely grouper dinner I woke up feeling very sick. I spent the next 24 hours feeling like I was on deaths doorstep. I have had food poisoning once before and thought that this was just an extreme case of it. However, the pain was so intense and some very strange things happened during that 24 hour time span that did not fit with food poisoning. At the height of the attack I experienced a frightening spasm of my hands where they contorted into positions I can not now replicate. As well as I felt a rush of numbness and tingling that went up both my arms and my legs. My tongue had pins and needles in it, and drinking water was very painful- like drinking a mouthful of glass. My stomach felt as though I was being repeatedly stabbed with 100 knives and walking was impossible. As I laid on the bathroom floor I really felt that at that moment I was going to die. This intensity lasted about 20 minutes when suddenly the contraction in my hands released and I felt some of the pain in my stomach diminish.(The power of prayer is incredible)
It was within the next few minutes that I was finally able to take some of the medications my boyfriend had gone to find for me. He literally had to carry me to bed as I was too weak to stand or walk on my own. I slept the next few hours and woke up feeling much better, no pain in my stomach!! However, I was extremely weak and the way I explained it was I felt like I had run 4 ironmans that day.
I still had a strange sensation in my hands and feet as well. They felt all "pins and needles". I thought I was suffering from a bad case of dehydration and hoped it would be gone by morning. It wasn't. Neither was the tingling of my tongue, nor the incredible leg(bone) pain I would experience at random times. I have begun to call these "attacks" as I never know when I will be overtaken with intense pain, nor do I know where in my body it will hit. I made it through the rest of vacation but knew something was not right in my body at all. I did not know what it was or what to do about it yet.
Upon coming back home it was brought to my attention that there is a toxin found in some Caribbean fish. I had FISH POISONING, otherwise known as, CIGUATERA.
CIGUATERA is a food borne illness that one gets by eating contaminated reef fish. The reef fish eat the small fish along the reef who have eaten the bacteria off the coral. There is no way to know a fish has the toxin. It appears normal, it smells normal, the toxin can't be killed when cooked, or frozen. This is dangerous stuff!! The most common fish that CIGUATERA is found in are: grouper, red snapper, barracuda, sea bass, amberjack, spanish mackeral and eel. The fish that are toxic are found in the waters of the Caribbean, Hawaii, and Coastal Central America.
The signs and symptoms you have contracted CIGUATERA are:
In severe cases:
-hot and cold temperatures will feel reversed
-shortness of breath
There is no cure for CIGUATERA. Just time. People who contract this toxin may suffer with symptoms from a few weeks to several years and many experience recurrent episodes.
Those that do get CIGUATERA need to avoid eating fish, nuts, seeds, oils, chicken and eggs as they may cause a exacerbation or a recurrent episode.
It has been almost a month since my exposure and I still struggle with symptoms daily like, severe itching(at first I thought I was allergic to Saint Maarten due to the itching!!), extreme sensitivity to cold with both my hands and feet and tongue. Touching cold water feels like touching hot coals. I also have had random attacks of horrible joint pain, extreme numbness/tingling in my hands and fatigue. I do have good days and bad days. The symptoms are starting to abate and I am praying daily that they continue to. I have read stories of people who are suffering 10- 20 years after exposure and this conjures of feelings of fear, sadness and anger!
I am angry that travelers are not made more aware that this toxin exists. I am angry with the restaurant for serving a fish that they knew had the potential to do such harm to people. I am angry with myself for not being more proactive in looking up travel dangers. That is why I am writing this post. I hope to spread the information to as many people as I can so that no-one has to go through what I am going through. I would not wish this on my worst enemy. So, please, share this post with your friends. And when you travel please check out travel websites to look for things to avoid in the area you are traveling to. To be honest, I would also suggest not eating the fish listed above even when you are home unless you can be sure you are not getting fish from the Caribbean. There have been accounts of imported fish causing outbreaks of CIGUATERA in both New York, and St. Louis.
In the end it comes down to what I always say "when you know better, you do better"....we always have to be educating ourselves. And sharing information is one way to educate.