Approximately sixty-five medical doctors, educators, and clinicians attended the first Coastal Concerns for Clinicians workshop at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) in Ocean Springs, MS on August 2. The workshop’s focus included presentations from research experts in viral, bacterial, microalgal, and parasitic threats to Gulf Coast residents. The talks included information on the historical prevalence and distribution, causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment associated with common seafood related illnesses and case studies to help medical professionals better understand these concerns.
The workshop began with Research Microbiologist (Gulf Coast Seafood Laboratory), Jackie Woods, Ph.D., describing common enteric viruses found in Gulf Coast seafood. including Hepatitis A and Norovirus and their detection, effect and transmission to humans. This was followed by GCRL’s Professor, D. Jay Grimes, Ph.D, and Infectious Disease Specialist, Okechukwu Ekenna, M.D., who jointly presented on waterborne bacteria such as vibrio vulnificus, V. parahaemolyticus, E. coli, S. aureus, and a plethora of other naturally occurring bacteria. These pathogenic organisms can infect humans through consumption of raw seafood, causing severe gastrointestinal illness or following exposure of contaminated water with skin cuts or open wounds. Dr. Ekenna discussed that in compromised individuals with pre-existing health issues these bacteria can cause rapid tissue necrosis and affected areas require extensive debridement or amputation to avoid sepsis and possible death.
Between sessions, graduate students Shuo Shen (University of Southern Mississippi), Corey Russo (University of Southern Mississippi) and Natalie Ortell (University of South Alabama & Dauphin Island Sea Lab) USA gave demonstrations on DNA methods including polymerase chain reaction detection of bacteria and viruses in diagnosis.
University of South Alabama Marine Toxicologist, Dr. Alison Robertson, presented on human poisoning syndromes associated with harmful marine algae, including neurotoxic shellfish poisoning caused by the red tide organism Karenia, diarrhetic shellfish poisoning caused by Dinophysis and Prorocentrum spp. Other potentially serious intoxications including ciguatera fish poisoning, amnesic shellfish poisoning, and paralytic shellfish poisoning were also discussed during this interactive, multimedia presentation. Robertson discussed the importance of phytoplankton monitoring in prevention of illness and the mechanisms of toxicity in humans, progression of disease, diagnosis, and current treatment options.
Wrapping up the seminar component of the workshop, Professor Robin Overstreet, Ph.D. (University of Southern Mississippi, GCRL) gave a presentation on the plethora of parasites found in seafood and their possible harmful effects on humans that consume them including flukes, roundworms, and tapeworms.
The afternoon session was focused on case study presentations on pathogenic bacteria led by Dr. Ekenna, a first account of Vibrio skin infection by Fisheries Biologist Jim Franks (University of South Alabama), and local case studies of ciguatera fish poisoning by Dr. Robertson including video accounts of patient experiences and illness progression.
The workshop was extremely interactive and produced lively and informative discussion between speakers and attendees who were encouraged to ask questions and share their own clinical experiences. This was an important event for local clinicians who are often in a position of first response. Due to the complexity of illnesses, many of the disorders presented during the workshop are frequently misdiagnosed, so with this unique take on these coastal concerns, workshop participants are now armed with the critical resources and knowledge needed to identify and treat these cases more rapidly in the northern Gulf of Mexico.