Roskamp Institute begins studying long-term effects of red tide in humans

Updated: Jun. 30, 2019 at 8:18 PM EDT
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SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. (WWSB) - It’s been months since red tide hammered the Suncoast but it’s still unknown how it affects the human body long term.

“We suffered from it and it lasted a long time,” said Sue Ellis, who remembers when the beaches were covered by dead marine life, and also how it affected her body. “Coughing like everyone else, and you cough and the smell stops you from going to the beach."

While it’s been picture perfect on the Suncoast the last few months, she’s still worried what was killing the fish would also affect her body long term.

“It was so bad seeing so much dead wildlife that I started thinking that if it’s out in the air, is it actually going to do anything to us as well?” Ellis said.

It’s a question local researchers are trying to answer.

“We’re very interested in red tide because it releases a neurotoxin which we know it can cause inflammation in the brain in animals and fish, and our question is could that possibly happen to humans?” said Dr. Michael Mullan, Executive Director of the the Roskamp Institute.

Dr. Mullan and his team began to gather samples on Sunday from local volunteers, starting in Siesta Key. They collected blood and urine samples to measure the levels of the neurotoxin called Brevetoxin in their system. In their research, Dr. Mullan’s team is interested in learning if there’s a central nervous system component to Brevetoxin exposure in humans.

“We know that in certain vulnerable groups, like asthmatics, it can cause immediate damage to the lungs but in relation to the brain and the rest of the nervous system, no, we don’t know what happens, in particular what happens long term,” he said.

They hope they can answer that question soon.

“Hopefully the answer is no, it doesn’t cause any problems but we really need to know,” said Dr. Mullan.

The team will continue gathering samples from locals on Monday at Turtle Beach. Their goal is to collect around 400 samples. For more information on how to help, visit The Roskamp Institute site. You can also call David Patterson at 941-256-8019 ext. 3008.

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