5 Things to Know About Red Tide

As the Karenia brevis organism continues to bloom off Florida’s Atlantic Coast, waters off Miami Beach and other beaches along Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties have tested positive for the toxin that causes the dreaded “red tide.” Here are five things to know:

1. What are the health effects of the red tide?
If you are prone to respiratory conditions like asthma or emphysema, it is a good idea to stay away from the beach. The most common symptoms of red tide are coughing, irritated eyes or an itchy throat.

Jose Vazquez, M.D., an internal medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care at Miami Beach, says it’s best to stay away from the ocean at this time, especially if you have history of lung conditions. Those people should use their medications or contact their doctor if they experience throat irritation or have trouble breathing after being exposed to red tide conditions.

2. Is it safe to swim in the water?
Some people coming in contact with contaminated water will experience skin irritation and burning eyes. Those with respiratory illness should stay out of the water. If dead fish are present, they can be a source of dangerous bacteria.

3. Can I eat recreationally harvested shellfish during a red tide?
Molluscs such as clams, oysters and mussels harvested in a red tide closure area can be toxic and should not be eaten. Shellfish such as crab, shrimp and lobsters are not affected by the toxin and are safe to eat.

4. Is it safe to eat fish caught during a red tide?
Yes, but only if you filet the fish before cooking and eating. The toxins accumulate in the digestive organs of the fish, which should be discarded. It is never safe to eat dead or sick animals.

5. Are restaurants and seafood markets safe?
Because the seafood sold in restaurants and seafood markets are monitored by the government, they should be safe to eat.

“Most health problems caused by red tide are respiratory, not usually from ingestion,” Dr. Vazquez said. “For the most part fish caught in waters near red tide are safe as is what we buy commercially. But don’t eat any fish lying on the shore.”

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