Red Tide Facts
Howard Linzer, DO
The west coast of Florida is experiencing its worst toxic algae bloom in years, including the Naples area. Red tide’s toxic gases are killing marine life and creating respiratory issues for the affected areas’ residents and visitors. Here are some facts you should know about red tide and how it may affect public health. EPN Urgent Care is available to treat respiratory symptoms associated with exposure to red tide.
- Algae is an important part of the marine ecosystems. Most species of algae are not harmful.
- Under certain conditions, such as warm ocean water with low currents and runoff from rivers and streams, microscopic marine algae (K. brevis) grow out of control, creating algae blooms and making the ocean waters red or brown, hence the term “red tide”.
- This type of blooming occurs in the Gulf of Mexico, along the southwest coast of Florida and shoreline of Texas.
- Brevis produces powerful toxins called brevetoxins, which kills fish, turtles and other marine animals such as dolphins and manatees.
- Red tide blooms have been increasing over the past decade and Southwest Florida is currently experiencing the longest and largest bloom on record. Various government and private agencies are working on solutions—currently the main strategies are beach warnings or closings, and waiting for blooms to disperse.
Red Tide and Public Health:
- Brevetoxins can become concentrated in the tissues of shellfish that feed on K. brevis. People who eat these shellfish may suffer from neurotoxic shellfish poisoning, a food poisoning that can cause severe gastrointestinal and neurologic symptoms that requires medical attention, such as tingling fingers or toes.
- Little is known about how other types of environmental exposures to brevetoxin—such as breathing the air near red tides or swimming in red tides—may affect humans.
- People who swim among brevetoxins or inhale brevetoxins dispersed in the air can experience irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, as well as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. People with existing respiratory illness, such as asthma COPD or chronic bronchitis, may experience these symptoms more severely. Additionally, children and elderly people will have greater symptoms.
- If you seek medical evaluation and treatment at EPN urgent care, we will most likely administer or prescribe medications that will help control the symptoms. If needed, we will conduct tests such as chest X-rays or deliver breathing treatments.
*Information sourced from CDC.