DOH Informs Public of Health Risks Related to Sargassum

Sargassum fluitans.
Sargassum fluitans. (Submitted photo)

Commissioner of the V.I. Department of Health (VIDOH) Justa Encarnacion informs the public of the possible side effects of prolonged exposure to Sargassum. In the water, Sargassum can be harmless to humans, but once it lands on the beach and starts decomposing, it begins to release hydrogen sulfide gas or H2S, which is colorless and with an unpleasant rotten-egg odor. The H2S effect is based on how much is inhaled and for how long.

The Department of Health (DOH) is urging residents and beachgoers to be aware that prolonged contact with the Sargassum seaweed or inhalation of the hydrogen sulfide gas and ammonia can cause uncomfortable symptoms. Most of the symptoms are mild in nature and include shortness of breath, dizziness, vertigo, skin irritation and watery eyes or headaches.

The groups at risk are asthma patients, elderly people, babies and pregnant women.

No specific treatment for Sargassum toxicity exists, although supportive medical care can help alleviate the mild symptoms seen.

DOH is asking residents and visitors who are experiencing symptoms due to exposure to Sargassum to seek medical attention immediately.