NAPLES, Italy, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- Red tides are a type of algal bloom associated with certain dinoflagellate species. Under the right conditions, these tiny photosynthetic organisms can accumulate quickly in the water column, sucking up oxygen and suffocating marine life. They can also leech toxins into the water that can sicken animals and people.
But you don't have to go swimming to be poisoned by red tide toxins. A recent study found dangerously high levels of palytoxins in a home aquarium.
Recently, a family of four in the Netherlands was hospitalized after cleaning their aquarium. It's not the first time aquarium owners had complained about fever, shortness of breath and flu-like symptoms after rinsing an aquarium with hot water. But the incident in the Netherlands offered Italian researchers an opportunity to explore a little-studied topic.
Carmela Dell'Aversano and her colleagues at the University of Napoli quickly developed a technique for measuring the concentration of toxins. They used their system to test soft coral and synthetic seawater collected from the site of incident and found high levels of palytoxins.
Palytoxins are one of the most potent non-protein marine toxins and are thought to be to blame for the negative health effects associated with red tides.
Researchers published their findings in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
Dell'Aversano and her colleagues suspect the toxins can get released into the air with steam bubbles as home aquariums are washed with hot water, allowing the toxins to be unknowingly inhaled.
"Although the exact mechanism through which palytoxin congeners exert their inhalatory toxicity is still unknown," researchers wrote in their new study, "this represents a step toward demonstrating that palytoxin congeners exert toxic effects through inhalation both in natural environments and in the surroundings of private and public aquaria."