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Sarasota researchers find evidence that airborne exposure to red tide could have neurological impacts

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Stephen Splane / WUSF Public Media
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A red tide occurs when certain types of algae grow out of control. Some of the algae can produce powerful toxins, which are harmful chemicals that can kill fish and cause health problems for humans.

A new study by the Roskamp Institute, found participants exhibited symptoms previously only associated with eating contaminated seafood.

A Sarasota-based nonprofit that works to find treatments for brain disorders, has found evidence that airborne exposure to red tide could have neurological impacts.

The study by the Roskamp Institute is the first to suggest that certain people are susceptible to airborne exposure from the algae blooms.

Volunteers for the study reported symptoms similar to neurotoxic shellfish poisoning, such as nausea, dizziness, and headaches.

Michael Mullan, executive director of the Roskamp Institute says one of the key questions to research is finding out the minimum level of the neurotoxin that someone would need to have in their bloodstream to start to get these effects.

“We know the minimum level for a lot of other toxins but we really don't with red tide and the neurotoxin,” he said. "We need to find that out."

The study reveals that volunteers were more susceptible to symptoms if they had a previous medical history of migraine or chronic fatigue syndrome. It also indicated that repeated airborne exposures could make otherwise healthy people more sensitive to red tide.

As the population surges along Florida's coasts, it’s important to understand how humans are impacted by red tide, Mullan said.

"So, more and more people are getting exposed to these blooms when they occur, so we really need to understand who's at risk and how dangerous is it to be at risk-- or not-- and maybe to develop some warnings and some advice based on those findings,” he said.

Although respiratory symptoms are well-documented during red tide blooms, neurological aspects have not previously been examined in large populations.

The study included two-hundred and fifty volunteers from five Gulf Coast regions including Sarasota, Manatee, and Charlotte counties.

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