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Do Masks Work for Red Tide?

Red_tide.jpg
NOAA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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Red Tide

It turns out those masks we’ve gotten accustomed to wearing have another benefit, besides reducing the spread of COVID-19.

It seems those COVID masks might just be the thing to mitigate the harm of respiratory irritation due to red tide. Dr. Mike Parsons, professor of marine science at Florida Gulf Coast University, explains that the cells that make up the toxic dinoflagellate can actually break up in the surf, and become a part of the sea spray. People can then breathe the toxin in, and that can lead to various levels of respiratory irritation, including an itchy, scratchy throat and a burning sensation.

"Being particles, these masks could actually filter out or remove these toxin laden droplets from the water. And that could help to reduce the exposure of people down on the beach or near the water to the toxins," Parsons said.

Parsons notes that people with asthma or COPD might be at greater risk of irritation from the red tide. Wearing a mask, he says, would reduce the symptomology and reduce their exposure to the toxin. He also recommends masks for those who spend a lot of time working near the water who might be exposed.

"You have lifeguards, you have waiters and waitresses and other restaurant staff, people working at hotels, the tourists and so if they're on the beach, and they're there for prolonged periods of time, you know, there is some anecdotal evidence of people just feeling a little bit more rundown when they're being exposed to the red tide toxin," he said.

Parsons says wearing a mask might help in those situations too.