Systematics, Biodiversity and Evolution of Plants

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Tuesday December 14, 2021, 1 pm GMT+1


Nick YOUNG1,2*, Richard A. SHARPE1,2,3, Rosa BARCIELA1,2,4, Gordon NICHOLS2, Keith DAVIDSON5, Elisa BERDALET6, Lora E. FLEMING1,2 

Marine harmful algal blooms and observed human health effects – what is the evidence?

1 European Centre for Environment and Human Health, Truro, UK
2 University of Exeter Medical School, Exeter, UK
3 Public Health, Cornwall, Truro, UK
4 Met Office, Exeter, UK
5 Scottish Association for Marine Science, Scottish Marine Institute, Oban, UK
6 Institute of Marine Sciences (CSIC), Passeig Marítim de la Barceloneta, Barcelona, Spain

Exposure to harmful algal blooms (HABs) can lead to well recognised acute patterns of illness in humans. We carried out a scoping review using established methodology to map the evidence for associations between marine HABs and observed both acute and chronic human health effects. A systematic and reproducible search of publications from 1985 until May 2019 was conducted using diverse electronic databases. Following de-duplication, 5301 records were identified, of which 380 were included in the final qualitative synthesis. Most studies (220; 57.9%) related to Ciguatera Poisoning. Anecdotal and case reports were the most frequent study types (242; 63.7%), whereas there were fewer formal epidemiological studies (35; 9.2%). Only four studies related to chronic exposure to HABs. Few studies reported the use of human specimens for confirmation of the cause of illness (32; 8.4%). This study highlighted gaps in the evidence base including a lack of formal surveillance and epidemiological studies, limited use of toxin measurements in human samples, and a scarcity of studies of chronic exposure. Future research and policy should provide a baseline understanding of the burden of human disease to inform the evaluation of the current and future impacts of climate change and HABs on human health.