20 March 2016 | La Cruz, Banderas Bay, Mexico
Many people, including Dee and I have had food poisoning in the past. We all know what it's like with the nausea, sweats, and diarrhea. It's no fun at all! On Friday, Dee and I had the opportunity to try a completely different, and very nasty, food experience - Scombroid Poisoning. It's nothing like the food poisoning that you would expect, and manages to be both unpleasant and quite scary at the same time. Obviously, it all worked out OK or I wouldn't be writing this! Here is our story about something that I had never heard of before. It's a bit of a long read, but worth it.
Friday night, we were on shore at a dinner party that some boating friends were hosting in a condo that they were renting. There were three couples, including us, and it was a great day around the pool followed by a delicious gourmet tuna steak dinner. Hint, hintÉ We each had our own huge, thick slab of tuna steak. It was seasoned to perfection and absolutely delicious, even for a guy like me who is not a fish fanatic.
Just after the main course was finished, at the start of dessert, Dee said that she felt light headed and went to lie down on the couch. She almost didn't make it on her own. She was hot & cold, very flushed all over, and too dizzy to sit or stand up. Within a few minutes she felt a bit better, but was very dizzy again when she sat upright. Additionally, she was itchy all over, especially on her hands. StrangeÉ I figured that maybe it was a bit of heat stroke as we had been outside at the pool all afternoon.
Within just a few minutes, others said that they were itchy. Looking at them, you could see that they were flushing bright red as well. We were just sitting around at this point commenting on the strange colour of everyone. It looked a bit like a bad sunburn, but it was blotchy. I didn't notice it until it was pointed out, but I was idly scratching my palms like the others. This wasn't a sign of money coming my way!
It seemed like a bit of mass hysteria to me. How could food poisoning set in within minutes? Maybe this was all a sympathetic response to Dee's sudden sickness? But, just as I was saying this, one of the other guys headed to the can and emptied both ends quite violently. As he settled onto a bed it was apparent that he was also light headed & sweating. HmmmÉ Some common symptoms were appearing. To add to the fun, the other guy stood up at this point and nearly fell down until I caught him.
It was getting pretty serious at this point. We had two people down and two more, me included, feeling some symptoms.
Dee started feeling a bit better so we decided that we would head back to the boat while we could. Six potentially projectile-sick people in a two bathroom condo is always bad situation. Going back to a boat in the anchorage away from help had its drawbacks as well. If we did need help, it would be harder to get. But, at this point I jus wanted to get back to my "safety zone" and my own bathroom, if needed. It is important to note that I wasn't feeling much at this point except a pounding headache. I had been drinking all day so I wrote it off to that. We had about a mile walk back to the marina which did us good. Our blood was pumping and we felt better for the walk.
A ten minute dinghy ride took us back to the boat. Things went South fast then!
As soon as we arrived, we were using both bathrooms in each hull. Hooray for dual bathrooms! Dee was feeling worse again and I was also very light headed, had the runs like Dee, and was bright red all over.
Things were getting stressful and had the potential to go extreme at this point! I've had food poisoning before and know that it takes several hours to start. It was obvious that this was some other form of toxic poisoning, but what was it?
I felt like I was back in the fire department during a first responder situation, except that I was both responder and patient. I can't understate how unsettling it is to know that you have some kind of poison in your system and not knowing how bad the symptoms are going to get. Add to that that we don't have the medical response system down here that we take for granted back home. I felt that we were on our own and that I need to find a solution while I was able to do so.
Dee's symptoms seemed to be bad, but stable, but mine were still getting worse. For example, my blood pressure was down to 90 over 50, where it is normally around 130 over 90. Dee's pressure was similar. No wonder we were so light headed with killer headaches.
Whatever it was, I likely needed to get it out of my system so that I could retain control in case we needed to head back to shore for medical help. I did all that I could to induce vomiting, with some success, and then knew that my next step was to get online and to try and find out what was making us so sick.
Luckily, and I still don't know why, but we were able to access an open internet hot spot from the boat. If not, we did have the satellite internet as an expensive backup system. Quickly, it looked like we were experiencing Scombroid Fish Poisoning that is caused by tuna that wasn't cooled quickly enough after catching. The symptoms matched exactly.
On the bad side, this can be a very bad poisoning, even deadly, but usually isn't. The immediate question in our mind was how serious was it going to be for us? How much further were our symptoms going to develop? I had already experienced blurry vision, but wasn't going to tell Dee about it at that point!
On the good side, it is a histamine reaction so an antihistamine is the treatment. I searched through the medicine cabinet with no luck. We don't have allergies, so no antihistamines. I searched through the first aid kit with no success there either. Then, I remembered that I still had the old first aid kit that I had put together for Salacia when we sailed away in 2005. Guess what, there were antihistamines in there! We quickly each took one.
The entire time that I am doing this Dee was flat on her back, or on the can, and we both felt unbelievably bad. Headaches, bright red skin, sweating profusely, cramps, dizziness, you name it. In hindsight, I can see that the entire time that I was searching the internet and then looking for antihistamines, I was operating in a dense fog. The state of the boat the next morning with the contents of the medicine cabinet and first aid kits strewn around the boat was proof. The low blood pressure must have quite an affect on things. But, we both did what we needed to do, when we needed to do it. You could say that this is a good thing to go through just before embarking on an ocean crossing.
As the internet promised, with 20 minutes of taking an antihistamine our symptoms started to disappear. Within an hour, the headache was still there but our colour and blood pressure were almost back to normal. It was amazing how fast we recuperated. By the time that we fell asleep, we were pretty giddy, believe it or not! It was a real roller coaster ride and felt like real survivors!
By morning, were were feeling fine, except that we were totally worn out. Think of the morning after a night of heavy drinking and you will know how we felt. Saturday was a very quiet boat day on Speakeasy. Today, on Sunday, we are 100% and even finished off our final provisioning. Tuna steaks are not on the menu - no surprise there!
The hosts, and the other couple, all experienced symptoms of different levels. One guy, the one that I caught when he was falling, was limited only to dizziness, nothing more. But, no one escaped unscathed. Dee was the smallest and maybe that is why her symptoms came on fast.
It turns out that this type of poisoning is surprisingly common and is not just a problem here in Mexico. You can't cook it out of the tuna and you can't see or smell it. It's just one of those roll of the dice things when you go to the fish market. You can even get this from cans of tuna. Who knew!
Just one more thingÉ We will eat tuna again, just not for a few weeks!