Summer bloom of Vulcanodinium rugosum in Cienfuegos Bay (Cuba) associated to dermatitis in swimmers

The marine dinoflagellate Vulcanodinium rugosum produces powerful paralyzing and cytotoxic compounds named pinnatoxins (PnTX) and portimines. Even though, no related human intoxication episodes following direct exposure in seawater or the ingestion of contaminated seafood have been documented so far. This study aimed at investigating a dinoflagellate bloom linked to acute dermatitis cases in two recreational beaches in Cienfuegos Bay, Cuba. We used epidemiological and clinical data from 60 dermatitis cases consisting of individuals in close contact with the bloom. Seawater physical-chemical properties were described, and the microorganism causing the bloom was identified by means of light and scanning electron microscopy. Morphological identification was confirmed genetically by sequencing the internal transcribed spacers ITS1 and ITS2, and the 5.8S rDNA region. Toxic compounds were identified from a bloom extract using liquid chromatography (LC) coupled to high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS), and their concentrations were estimated based on low-resolution tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS). Sixty people who had prolonged contact with the dinoflagellate bloom suffered acute dermal irritation. Most patients (79.2%) were children and had to be treated with antibiotics; some required >5-day hospitalization. Combined morphological and genetic characters indicated V. rugosum as the causative agent of the bloom. rDNA sequences of the V. rugosum genotype found in the bloom aligned with others from Asia, including material found in the ballast tank of a ship in Florida. The predominant toxins in the bloom were portimine, PnTX-F and PnTX-E, similar to strains originating from the Pacific Ocean. This bloom was associated with unusual weather conditions such as frequent and prolonged droughts. Our findings indicate a close link between the V. rugosum bloom and a dermatitis outbreak among swimmers in Cienfuegos Bay. Phylogenetic evidence suggests a recent introduction of V. rugosum from the Pacific Ocean into Caribbean waters, possibly via ballast water.


Harmful algal bloom, Human health, Skin irritation, Emergent toxin

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Moreira-González Angel R., Comas-González Augusto, Valle-Pombrol Aimee, Seisdedo-Losa Mabel, Hernández-Leyva Olidia, Fernandes Luciano F., Chomérat Nicolas, Bilien Gwenael, Hervé Fabienne, Rovillon Georges-Augustin, Hess Philipp, Alonso-Hernández Carlos M., Mafra Luiz L. (2021). Summer bloom of Vulcanodinium rugosum in Cienfuegos Bay (Cuba) associated to dermatitis in swimmers. Science Of The Total Environment. 757. 143782 (12p.).,

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