The University of Maryland School of Medicine is seeking volunteers for an ongoing study of toxic pfiesteria and its effects on the human brain and nervous system. Researchers are seeking people who, through recreation or work, have come in contact with water where fish kills have occurred, especially if they have experienced an unusual illness.
"We have to remain vigilant," says Lynn Grattan, Ph.D., associate professor of neurology and director of neuropsychology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. "Although there have been no major outbreaks since 1997, there have been new cases of pfiesteria-related illness found in Maryland in recent years," says Dr. Grattan. Her five-year study is funded by the National Institute of Environmental and Health Science (NIEHS).
Pfiesteria is a microorganism commonly found in estuaries likes the Chesapeake Bay. When pfiesteria turns toxic, it can cause fatal lesions on fish. Pfiesteria led to massive fish kills on Maryland's Eastern Shore in August of 1997. Toxic pfiesteria also causes a wide range of symptoms in people, including fatigue, skin rashes and memory and learning problems. Pfiesteria is not fatal in humans.
Dr. Grattan is leading a team of scientists who are examining the short and long-term health effects of pfiesteria by testing and treating those who may have been exposed to the organism. "We are studying how pfiesteria causes these symptoms, and how people are affected in the weeks, months and years following exposure," says Dr. Grattan. "When we have a better understanding of how pfiesteria works in the human body, we may be able to find a treatment."
Participants in the study receive a thorough physical and neuropsychological exam, which can include brain scans and other tests to measure neurocognitive performance. They may also be referred to specialists, such as dermatologists and pulmonary specialists, when needed. The testing and treatment are free, and participants will receive a small stipend.
Anyone who believes they might have been exposed to pfiesteria is asked to call (410) 328-6297. Long distance and toll free: 1-877-668-4559.
For patient inquiries, call 1-800-492-5538 or click here to make an appointment.