James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

More reports of Kiwis suffering from toxic fish poisoning

Amanda Austrin is still sick after eating contaminated fish in 2011. Photo / Alan Gibson
Amanda Austrin is still sick after eating contaminated fish in 2011. Photo / Alan Gibson

A man who suffered ciguatera poisoning after eating contaminated fish says the toxin stayed in his body for years causing relapses.

A number of readers who have been affected by ciguatera poisoning contacted the Herald after a story about Whakatane woman Amanda Austrin ran yesterday.

Ms Austrin, 41, has spent more than 30 weeks in hospitals with ciguatera poisoning after eating toxic fish while holidaying in Fiji in July 2011.

The ciguatera toxin is odourless and tasteless and found in predator fish in tropical and sub-tropical waters.

Eating the fish can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, cramps, weakness, temperature inversion and in rare cases coma and death.

Eighteen months after her trip, Ms Austrin still vomits daily. She cannot eat or take fluids without the help of a machine and has hot and cold reversals.

She wants to warn the thousands of New Zealanders travelling to the Pacific Islands and Australia each year to take caution and not eat reef fish as there is no known antidote to the poison.

One man, who asked to be called only by his first name Martin, said he suffered the illness while working on a yacht on the Great Barrier Reef near Brampton Island in the early 1970s.

Within half a day he began feeling numbness and tingling around his mouth before the onset of vomiting, headaches and temperature inversions.

"It was the same story with me - eating fish," he said. "Been there and done that, not as bad as she has got it but holy smokes she has got it bad."

Martin said doctors in the tropics were aware of the toxin back then but an antidote had still not been found 40 years later. He said doctors here probably had "no clue" as to what they were dealing with.

"They said 'you have ciguatera, it should go away in a few months' and it did after a while, a bloody long while, maybe six months or a bit more.

"The worst thing was the temperature inversions - you get a hot cup of tea and it feels and tastes cold and it's burning your mouth."

Martin realised the toxin was still in his body more than two years after suffering his illness when he thought he was in the clear.

A fish meal triggered his symptoms again with more tingling around his mouth and headaches although this time the hot cold changes weren't there.

He swore off fish for more than 25 years and only began eating it again about 10 years ago - this time without any relapse.

Another man, Kamlesh Goundar, originally from Fiji, agreed with Ms Austrin that local doctors had no idea what they were dealing with.

He ate some fish brought to him by Fijian relatives but just a few hours later was in North Shore Hospital vomiting and with diarrhoea.

"Doctors in the first visit took it as extreme gastritis even after I told them it was fish poisoning as we know in Fiji, it's a common occurrence."

Mr Goundar said Fijians know to avoid certain fish at different times of the year. He said he healed himself by drinking "lots and lots" of coconut milk and eating blueberries.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's said it was consulting the Ministry of Health over whether a travel warning about ciguatera poisoning was warranted.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n2 at 30 Jul 2014 07:33:00 Processing Time: 683ms