Some diseases may become overrated when sensationalized reports spread through the media, causing unnecessary fear and paranoia among most people.
Ciguatera is, however, an exception.
Experts say that food poisoning caused by ciguatera has been underreported in the past. They therefore stress the need to be more aware of the disease.
Researchers at the University of Florida's Emerging Pathogens Institute, along with the Florida Department of Health re-estimated the annual incidence of poisoning due to ciguatera and arrived at a result far from previous reports provided.
In previous evidence gathered from reports submitted by physicians to the state Health Department, the occurrence of the disease was said to be 2 in every 100,000 persons. In the re-estimated report, it turns out to be more than twice as much - around 5.6 cases per 100,000 persons.
"I think there is a broader awareness the farther south you go that barracuda are carriers but perhaps not as much awareness that a fish like grouper or amberjack can carry ciguatera," says the study's lead author Elizabeth Radke. She assures that there really is no need to stop eating these other fish, however, stresses the more important need to see a physician, in cases when eating the fish has caused one to feel sick.
The disease is caused by a rare food-borne toxin transmitted by sport fish like the barracuda, grouper and amberjack. Similar to the effects of food poisoning, ciguatera may cause severe nausea and vomiting, and occasional neurological symptoms.
In tropical and subtropical areas in Florida, grouper, amberjack, hogfish, snapper, mackerel and mahi mahi were also found to be associated with ciguatera. Radke and her team found that incidents in Florida were caused by fish caught in the Bahamas and the Florida Keys. Also, Palm Beach County contributed to 5 percent, and Miami-Dade County made up 4 percent.
Florida's Department of Health aims to increase awareness of this disease, as, according to Radke, there may be two reasons why previous reports have shown low incidents of ciguatera - physicians not reporting cases to the Department of Health and patients not seeking medical assistance. According to Radke, some patients might not know they are infected with the disease, while some may mistake a different illness for ciguatera. All the same, awareness of the disease is a priority.
Ciguatera is the most common among diseases caused by fish-related food poisoning. Fishes that carry this toxin are found in warmer waters in tropical and subtropical areas, and may transmit ciguatera to smaller fishes that feed on reef vegetables, and to bigger fishes that prey on them. Limited evidence shows that the drug mannitol may limit symptoms; however, experts say there is no cure to the disease. There is no evidence or test to signal its presence.
Most of those reported to have had the disease in Florida are Hispanics. Radke's team concludes this may be due to a "cultural preference" for barracudas.
The Florida Health Department encourages people to know more about the disease, as published in their website.
Photo: LASZLO ILYES | Flickr