Texas researchers are trying to develop an early warning system to help health officials handle "red tide" algae blooms that can cause breathing problems in humans.
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi experts are hoping water sampling and media reports could provide data to support a system to better prepare for the algae blooms, the http://www.caller.com#mce_temp_url#. Researchers are seeking funding to fully develop the warning system for hospitals and emergency rooms.
"At minimum, I'm hoping we can tell hospitals when red tide is coming here to help them with diagnosis," said Larry McKinney, director of the university's Harte Research Institute. Symptoms can include coughing, watery eyes and burning nasal passages.
Red tide has blanketed parts of the Texas coast, but blooms don't occur every year. Research indicates outbreaks of the fish-killing algae might be occurring more often and lingering longer.
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"What is striking to me is the increase in red tide frequency since the mid-1990s," said Mike Wetz, a marine biology professor at the university. "Basically, the blooms appear to be lasting longer and becoming more frequent. This is based on observations reported in Caller Times articles going back to the 1950s."
The university's scientists have drawn a possible link between red tide blooms around Corpus Christi and increased respiratory health issues in the area.
Researchers looked for a historic correlation between red tide and respiratory illness by comparing decades of newspaper reports to 2 million health records. They're now studying natural factors that coincide with red tide blooms to determine whether they can predict when the Gulf of Mexico's tide is ripe for an algal bloom.
"On both coasts, the blooms typically start offshore and work their way in closer to the coast," Wetz said. "Our optimal time frame for blooms seems to be August/October, so that's what we are looking for this year."
Information from: Corpus Christi Caller-Times, http://www.caller.com