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Hillsborough County residents warned to beware of Red Tide health risks

Red tide has made its way into Tampa Bay.

Residents are urged to take precautions to minimize health-related effects of the naturally occurring algae that periodically affects coastal waterways and beaches.

Red tide, the cause of which remains somewhat mysterious, can irritate eyes, noses, and throats. Exposure to airborne particles of the microscopic algae can cause coughing and sneezing. Symptoms are more severe among people with respiratory conditions such as asthma.

Florida's Department of Health recommends:

  • Don't touch or swim near dead fish.
  • Wear shoes to prevent injuries from stepping on fish carcasses.
  • Keep pets away from water, sea spray, and dead fish affected by red tide.
  • Don't harvest or eat shellfish in affected areas where they normally are considered safe to consume.
  • When possible, stay away from water bodies and beaches where red tide or fish killed by the toxic algae is present.

Generally, any encounter with red tide is an unpleasant experience best avoided. Symptoms usually subside or go away entirely when a person enters an air-conditioned building or leaves an area affected by the toxin.

Here's a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission map showing water in and around Tampa Bay where researchers have collected samples of red tide, and the samples' severity. The Commission has an online fact sheet with information about red tide and its effects.

Hillsborough County is monitoring local beaches and nature preserves adjacent to Tampa Bay for any red tide effects. It also is coordinating with other public agencies.

There have been sightings of dead fish washing ashore in areas around Tampa Bay, including in Hillsborough County. The County will dispose of dead fish that wash up on county-owned beaches but not on private property.

If there are dead fish on your private property that you wish to dispose of immediately, it is advised that you double-bag the dead fish using gloves and wearing a mask and dispose of them in the gray garbage cart.

Collected dead fish that have been double-bagged can also be taken to the South County Community Collection Center at 13000 U.S. 41 in Gibsonton from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday for proper disposal. Residents must show a valid photo ID. Disposed dead fish will not count against annual residential disposal limits. Commercial businesses are not permitted to dispose of dead fish at this site.