Red tide toxins can affect your brain, Florida study finds

Reporter: Emma Heaton Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:
Red tide
Sign warning about red tide. (Credit: WINK News)

Red tide not only impacts beaches and wildlife but your health as well. A new study shows that blooms can affect your brain.

Two hundred fifty volunteers from five Florida counties, including Charlotte, Lee and Collier, participated in the study.

During the water crisis in 2018, dead fish rose to the water’s surface. Even dead dolphins washed ashore.

RELATED: New study directly links human activity to red tide in Southwest Florida

If you were here, you remember the stench and the complaints. For some, it was hard to breathe, and others couldn’t stop coughing.

Now, the Roskamp Institute, based in Sarasota County, says its researchers are the first to prove that red tide can affect people through the air, especially those with migraines or chronic fatigue syndrome.

“We followed individuals during the bloom, and a group of unfollowed got followed outside of the bloom. And what we found is that, during the direct type blooms, individuals were reporting these neurological symptoms, which are commonly associated with eating seafood that’s contaminated with red tide toxins. And some of these symptoms included. Headache, dizziness, numbness, as well as you know, changes in sensation to hot and cold,” said Dr. Laila Abdullah, senior scientist with the Roskamp Institute.

Phil Bonvegna of North Fort Myers remembers what red tide did to sea life in 2018.

“I turned on the news. And that’s all I saw was red tide. And you’re not supposed to fall in the water, and the fish were dying. And I was shocked by that,” said Bonvegna.

Four years later, a study says red tide affected people too.

“Some of the participants were reporting headaches. So we thought it would be important to study the neurological impact of red tide toxins and are during red tide blooms,” said Abdullah.

Abdullah said in 2020, researchers took blood and urine samples, then interviewed and chose 250 volunteers to participate in the study.

The findings? Red tide blooms can cause symptoms that lead to “Significant public health safety concerns. Primarily among vulnerable populations with pre-existing neurological conditions.”

Participants were only exposed to red tide toxins in the air, but Abdullah said eating seafood contaminated with red tide toxins caused issues too.

Migraine sufferers and those with chronic fatigue suffer more severely during red tide blooms. When otherwise healthy people are repeatedly exposed to red tide toxins, they can become more sensitive to it.

The good news for all of us is there are currently no signs of red tide.

Researchers say they plan to follow their study volunteers to determine exactly how much of the toxin triggers a response.

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