According to the researchers, it might not be realized by the Caribbean tourists that a brown drifting seaweed which has been piling up on the beaches recently is dangerous.
Medics & travelers should be aware of the danger that prolonged contact with the ‘Sargassum weed’, or inhaling the gas it gives off; hydrogen sulfide, as it decomposes on the beach, can result in shortness of breath, vertigo, heart palpitations, dizziness, skin rashes, and headache, the authors write in the Journal of Travel Medicine.
Doctor Andrea Boggild, Co-author of the research and clinical director of the Tropical Disease Unit at Toronto General Hospital stated that he has observed the patients returning from the affected areas with rare symptoms which were reminiscent of an intoxication syndrome in the absence of alternative explanations.
She told the Reuters by email that the more research she did on the subject, the more she realized that this is an issue which continues to fly under the radar of most medical professionals.
Co-author of the research Doctor Mary Elizabeth Wilson and Boggild reported that at the beginning of 2011, bigger than normal amounts of the brown seaweed started washing up on shores around the Caribbean, originating from Brazil’s northeast coast, and by 2018, greatest amounts were reported. The seaweed also occurs in the Yellow Sea of China, where it is known as “golden tide.”
Decomposing this brown weed releases hydrogen sulfide gas & ammonia, which can cause skin, respiratory & neurocognitive symptoms in both tourists and residents. Toxic exposure normally happens during decomposition, which is around 2 days after it washes ashore. On the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe alone, over 11,000 cases of acute Sargassum toxicity were reported during 8 months in 2018.
There is not any specific treatment for Sargassum toxicity, even though supportive medical care can help. To prevent from the toxicity, the travelers should avoid exposure to the seaweed in the first place.