Scientia Marina, Vol 80, No S1 (2016)

Establishing the link between Ostreopsis cf.ovata blooms and human health impacts using ecology and epidemiology

Magda Vila
Institut de Ciències del Mar, CSIC , Spain

Rafael Abós-Herràndiz
Catalan Health Institute, Department of Primary Health Care, Generalitat de Catalunya , Spain

Jordi Isern-Fontanet
Institut de Ciències del Mar, CSIC , Spain

Josep Àlvarez
Public Health Agency of Catalonia, Department of Health, Generalitat de Catalunya , Spain

Elisa Berdalet
Institut de Ciències del Mar, CSIC , Spain


Blooms of the benthic dinoflagellate Ostreopsis have been related to sporadic acute respiratory symptoms and general malaise in people exposed to marine aerosols on some Mediterranean beaches. However, the direct link between recurrent Ostreopsis blooms and health problems has not been clearly established. In order to establish and elucidate the connection, we conducted a joint ecology and epidemiology study in an Ostreopsis hot spot. Throughout the bloom, which extended from the end of June until the end of October 2013, 81% of the human cohort that we studied experienced at least one Ostreopsis-related symptom. Paradoxically, the time when the effects were greatest was during a short time window in early August. This corresponded to the transition from the exponential growth to the stationary phase of the bloom. Negligible symptoms were reported from August to mid-October, during the stationary period of the proliferation, when O. cf. ovata maintained high concentrations of epiphytic cells. No clear patterns in the landward wind component were noted during the time when health effects were greatest. Our main hypothesis is that the irritants present in the aerosol are produced during a particular physiological phase of the Ostreopsis cells during the bloom.


Ostreopsis; epidemiology; Mediterranean; HAB; dinoflagellates; respiratory irritation

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