20 July 2005

Tropical algae leaves beach-goers gasping in Italy

More than 150 beach-goers required treatment in the north-western town of Genoa for high fever and breathing problems after inhaling a toxin produced by a tropical algae, officials said Tuesday.

Twelve people were admitted to hospital as a precaution while others were treated and released between Sunday evening and Monday, said Federico Grasso, a spokesman for a regional environment protection agency.

The tropical algae Ostreopsis ovata usually lives on the bottom of the sea but rises to the surface when blooming and releases a neurotoxin into the air, Grasso said.

An unusual concentration of the algae on a 5km stretch of shore near Genoa's harbour produced a large amount toxin, which affected swimmers and people on the beach.

Authorities have closed off the affected areas for the next three days and the algae are expected to disperse by then, Grasso said.

Warm weather favoured the unusually large blooming of the algae, which were also protected in the sheltered waters of the harbour.

Although of tropical origin, this species of algae lives throughout the Mediterranean and similar incidents have occurred in the past on other sections of the Italian coast, Grasso said.

Giacomo Zappa, a doctor at Genoa's Galliera hospital, said the symptoms of the poisoning would subside within a week.

He added that he was much more worried of people eating seafood or fish contaminated by the poison, as ingestion of the toxin can cause neurological and heart problems.

Source: www.iol.co.za


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