The Florida Department of Health’s Aquatic Toxins Program

With so much focus lately on red tide we reached out to our Red Tide Alliance partner at the Florida Department of Health’s Aquatic Toxins Program and asked them to talk to our readers about red tide and the work that they do in their department. They have shared the following information with us:

Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) can cause severe illnesses in humans and other animals. The Florida Department of Health’s Aquatic Toxins Program works to investigate illnesses caused by toxic algal blooms in fresh and marine waters. One of the goals of the program is to find HAB-related illnesses so we better understand health effects of aquatic toxins. Some of the illnesses of interest to us include skin rashes in freshwater swimmers exposed to blue green algae (cyanobacteria), respiratory irritation in beach goers during Florida red tides, ciguatera fish poisoning in people who ate certain species of tropical finfish, and cases of neurotoxic and paralytic shellfish poisonings in people who consumed contaminated molluscan shellfish.

Ciguatera fish poisoning occurs when tropical reef-dwelling fish accumulate toxins produced by a marine dinoflagellate called Gambierdiscus toxicus. Over 400 different fish species have been identified as potential ciguatoxin carriers. Shellfish poisonings occur when high concentrations of brevetoxins produced by the marine dinoflagellate, Karenia brevis, accumulate in shellfish. These brevetoxins are the same toxins produced during a Florida red tide.

The Aquatic Toxins Program provides support to Florida’s 67 County Health Departments which respond to algal blooms in their local communities. We also look for illnesses in partnership with the Florida Poison Control Centers, federal state and local agencies, Florida hospitals and other health care facilities. The Aquatic Toxins Program also provides outreach materials to communities on the health effects of aquatic toxins and assists local organizations including county, city, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with obtaining the information they need to respond effectively to toxic algal blooms.

In an innovative and nationally unique partnership, the Aquatic Toxins Program works with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to use satellite images to find and forecast cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms in freshwater. We also use satellite images to create semi-weekly satellite health bulletins. For more information on aquatic toxins, including links to brochures, posters, press releases and other educational materials, visit the program’s website at:

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