Can algae blooms harm human health?

Posted at 6:33 PM, Jun 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-29 10:17:29-04

LEE COUNTY, Fla. -- As the weekend approaches and families hit Southwest Florida's water, some people are concerned about what algae and red tide can do to their health.

The Florida Department of Health in Lee County issues a health advisory for the Alva and Davis boat ramps and Franklin locks after water sample results found cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae that can cause toxins. 

Dr. Mike Parsons, Professor of Marine Science and Director of Florida Gulf Coast University's Vester Field Station explained the algae related to red tide and the green algae and cyanobacteria many are seeing in Southwest Florida's freshwater ways are different, but both can produce toxins. 

Both bacteria are bad for you if ingested, whether it's by drinking the water, or eating fish that consumed the toxins. However, Dr. Parsons said just being around either should not have any extreme health effects on people who do not have certain conditions. "You don't have to freak out," he said. "I would say the biggest concern for red tide indirectly would be if you have asthma. Sometimes red tide aerosols can trigger asthmatic responses." 

According to Dr. Parsons, the smell produced by algae blooms seen in our inland waterways may bother some people. Touching the algae may also cause swimmer's itch. "In terms of the cyanobacteria blooms, the past couple of years have been bad. It's an emerging issue. It's something we have to address and understand better so we can better combat against it."

To look at map of the water samples taken in your area, click here.