Although we are witnessing a real resurgence of this phenomenon, it would be incorrect to think that the ciguatera has a recent origin. Indeed, i l seem that the former type of ciguatera poisoning ever described back to the year 650, according to the observations of a doctor and Chinese philosopher Tsang CHAN CHI, to whom we owe the first fatal clinical syndrome report associated with the consumption of a yellowtail trevally.
It was not until the 16th century and the first great navigations that Pietro Martire d’Anghiera, then chronicler at the Spanish court, brought back the testimonies of
Christopher Columbus, Vasco de Gama, Cortez and Magellan, in which many misadventures associated with the consumption of poisonous fish are recounted.
John Locke, English physician and philosopher, observed in 1675, during a stay in the archipelago of the Bahamas, that it could coexist within a set of fish of the same species, poisonous individuals, others not. He then offers us a still very current description of the ciguatera and even addresses the phenomenon of chronic resurgences:
“… Some fish there are poisoned causing severe pain in the joints of those who eat them and also itching … These disorders disappear in two or three days … In a batch of fish of the same species, size, shape, and taste, only some specimens contain the poison, others do not cause any harm to humans … We have never heard that the disease is fatal, but for cats and dogs that consume these fish are often the last meal … In people who have had this disease once, a new ingestion of fish, even healthy, can revive the toxic ferment in the body and make the pain reappear … ” .
It is to Fernandez de Queiros that we owe the first report of a ciguatera case in the Pacific, around 1606, after massive intoxication with Lutjanus bohar, sinned in the waters of the New Hebrides.
Later, in 1774, Captain James Cook’s crew was poisoned on several occasions in the Vanuatu Islands and then in New Caledonia by a Sparus pagrus .
CaptainjamescookportraitCaptain James Cook
In 1786, the Portuguese naturalist Antonio Parra, made of a toxic episode which occurred in Havana, a description very similar to the current ciguatera syndrome (short incubation time, association of digestive syndrome, neurological, arthralgia and myalgia accompanied by dysgeusia , asthenia, difficulty in moving, breathing, dysesthesia of the extremities, etc. )
Regarding French Polynesia, it was not until 1792 that James Morrison, second master on board the “Bounty”, offered the first references relating to an intoxication very clearly evoking a ciguatera episode in the Society Islands:
his bloodshot eyes were swollen and looked like they were ready to pop out of their sockets. It lasted eight days with a few lulls, but the following week thanks to the priests who administered medicine to him, he made a full recovery, although he still had itching in the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet. These fish are called puhi pirirauti in the impossibility where they find themselves to differentiate the good from the bad they hesitate to throw them away and risk to eat them … ”
Finally, it was not until 1866 that the name “ciguatera” is proposed for the 1st re both the ichthyologist Felipe Poey, to designate a neuro-digestive poisoning commonly found in Cuba and linked to the ingestion of a gastropod mollusc Livona pica (= Cittarium pica , Linnaeus 1758), “cigua” from its vernacular name. Today, “ciguatera” designates both the clinical syndromes associated with the ingestion of toxic coral fish and the complex eco-toxicological phenomenon which is at its origin.