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I. What is Pfiesteria:

Like many other organisms that inhabit our estuaries, Pfiesteria is cause for concern. But, it is not cause for alarm or panic. It is a dinoflagellate—a microscopic organism that sometimes behaves like a plant and sometimes like an animal. It is a complicated organism, with at least two dozen life stages. In several stages, it produces neurotoxins and attacks fish. This organism has been found as far north as Delaware Bay and as far south as the Gulf of Mexico. Pfiesteria is potentially a problem only at certain times of the year (July-October) and in only some locations.

There are many kinds of microorganisms, other than Pfiesteria, which may cause human illness. People should avoid swimming or recreating in waters where fish are dead, dying or have sores. There is ongoing research on whether Pfiesteria affects seafood, so we really don’t know if it has an effect on the quality of seafood. Until that research is completed, you should not eat seafood with bleeding sores or peeled skin. You also shouldn’t harvest fish from an area where fish are sick or dying.

II. Does Pfiesteria Make People Sick?

There are reports that people have become ill after exposure to this organism. The best information about signs and symptoms comes from the exposure of laboratory workers to this organism and to the toxins it produces. The illness in this instance included disorientation, some loss of memory and skin lesions.