As if overfishing, cruelty, and mercury poisoning weren’t enough, here’s yet another reason to leave fish off your plate: ciguatera poisoning. Apparently, one of the many unforeseen effects of climate change is the spread of ciguatera, a toxin produced by an organism that grows on coral reefs. Common in large, predatory fish such as snapper, grouper, and barracuda, ciguatera was once confined mostly to the Caribbean, but it has now spread to the waters off Florida, Texas, and the Carolinas and has become one of the most common causes of fish-related food poisoning in the U.S.
Along with the usual nasty symptoms of food poisoning-nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, fever, and diarrhea-ciguatera also causes bizarre neurological symptoms worthy of a House episode: numbness, tingling, needle-like pain in the hands and feet, a burning sensation in the mouth and throat, and sometimes an irregular heartbeat. Ciguatera probably won’t kill you, but there is no effective treatment and the symptoms can persist for weeks, months, or even years. Call it “barrakarma.”