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By Nancy Bataillard

AVARUA, Rarotonga, Cook Islands (May 8 2001 – Cook Islands News)---Several people who have previously suffered from fish poisoning have been re-admitted to Rarotonga Hospital for treatment after getting poisoned again.

A couple was readmitted to the hospital two weeks ago and another person was been referred back to the hospital last week.

Health officials say people are apparently ignoring warnings issued by Marine Resources that anyone who suffers poisoning shouldn’t eat fish again for up to nine months.

In recent years there has been an increase in the number of people treated for fish poisoning.

According to Health Department records, in 1997 300 to 350 people were treated for fishing poisoning, compared with a little over 50 in 1993.

The Marine Resources pamphlet only gives statistics up to 1996, when 300 cases were recorded — but makes the observation that the true number of cases is likely to be higher.

The ecological causes of ciguatera outbreaks are still being investigated by Marine Resources officials and the Ministry regularly assesses the Rarotonga lagoon for outbreaks of ciguatera algae so it can warn the public about possible danger areas.

Kori Raumea of Marine Resources says if anyone who gets poisoned as a result of eating fish they shouldn’t eat it again for at least six to nine months, as even tiny traces of ciguatera in a fish can cause a relapse.

Abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, tingling and itching in the lips and skin are some of the symptoms, while other victims experience a reversed sense of temperature (hot water feels cold, cold water feels hot) and pain in the muscles and joints. Animals that are fed poisoned fish can die if not treated immediately.

The Ministry strongly advises people not to eat fish from the lagoon in the area from Titikaveka to Ngatangiia, as this is the worst affected location on Rarotonga. The outer islands are also affected.

Raumea says some reef fish that frequently cause fish poisoning include maito (surgeonfish), aa pata (moray eel) patuki roi and tonu (grouper and cod).

He says although Titikaveka lagoon is regularly assessed for outbreaks of ciguatera, people should always avoid eating mullet, trevally and surgeonfish caught there.

The Ministry of Marine Resources says the production and accumulation of ciguatera toxin is limited to the reef ecosystem. Oceanic fish like tuna or flying fish are not prone to the toxin, thought to be produced by tiny tropical marine plants that occur in shallow coral reef areas.

Causes of ciguatera outbreaks include natural large scale reef destruction such as from a cyclone, increases in water temperature, sediment runoff from land activities, increased nutrients in the water and rubbish dumping and other activities that damage reefs – like construction of piers or wharves and blasting of reef passages.

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