Increasing Public Transparency and Outreach About Health Impacts of Harmful Algal Blooms
Public Health Impacts of HABs Can Be Difficult to Track, Respond to, and Communicate About
Water is one of Florida’s most important resources, and Floridians are motivated to protect it. Florida’s warm climate can provide conditions that allow harmful algal blooms (HABs) to grow in the water. This includes “red tide” in salt water and cyanobacteria in fresh water. When these blooms grow too big, they can make people and animals sick and harm the environment, tourism, and the economy. The symptoms people experience after contact with these blooms can be similar to other common illnesses. Because of this, it can be difficult to estimate the overall impact of HABs on public health. Also, many public and private groups in Florida address HABs, so health guidance can be fragmented or messaging inconsistent.
Florida Department of Health Standardizes HAB Response Guidance and Notifications
In 2019, the Florida Department of Health created a statewide public notification system for HABs. The system uses daily water sample results from multiple data sources. The Florida Department of Health uses the results to inform public health messages, including those on informational signs and in press releases. Notifications are also included on the new Protecting Florida Togetherexternal icon website, Florida’s one-stop shop for water quality. Protecting Florida Together provides the public with straightforward and reliable information related to HABs.
The Florida Department of Health also worked closely with other state agencies to update the 2009 Resource Guide for Public Health Response to Harmful Algal Blooms in Florida. The 2021 editionexternal icon provides tools that guide public health preparedness and response to HABs. The guide includes information on current science, regulations, monitoring, outreach strategies, mitigation, and policy needs.
Consistent Communication and Collaborative Surveillance Improve Public Health Preparedness
Since July 1, 2019, the Florida Department of Health has issued more than 3,600 public health notifications for Florida’s most common HAB events. The Department of Health coordinates with multiple agencies to provide the public with consistent HABs messages. Media outlets also often report this information and further distribute it to the public.
Florida follows CDC’s One Health approach for HAB surveillance. This method connects environmental, animal, and human health data. The Florida Department of Health regularly reviews reports made to poison information centers and emergency departments about possible HAB exposures. As of August 1, 2021, the agency has reached out to more than 2,000 licensed veterinarians with resources to help diagnose and report possible HAB-related illnesses in companion animals.
Florida has been successful in increasing its communications about HABs to the public. The Florida Department of Health’s collaboration with public and private groups has improved overall public health preparedness and response related to HAB events.