Allercy and Asthma Health
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Fall 2008

Asthma and the Athlete

Peak Performance Program in Schools Will Help Children with Asthma

On the Cutting Edge of Red Tide Research

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The Official Publication of AAN - MA

On the Cutting Edge of Red Tide Research

PhotoBack in 1996 respiratory therapist Barbara Kirkpatrick, EdD, RRT, was serving as director of clinical education at Manatee Community College in Bradenton, FL, when the state was plagued with a prolonged Florida red tide, a marine phenomenon also known as a harmful algal bloom (HAB). Red tide occurs worldwide in both fresh and salt water, producing a toxin called brevetoxin that can impact human health through the consumption of containment seafood or, in the case of Florida red tide, the inhalation of the toxin via marine aerosol.

“I was making the rounds with my students in their clinical rotations,” she recalls. “We came across several asthmatics who were hospitalized and were told that the trigger for their asthma was probably from Florida red tide.” That sparked her scientific curiosity, and she conducted a pilot study on the HAB in 1998 while still at Manatee. A year later she had become so interested in the topic that she left the world of respiratory care academics to go to work for the Mote Marine Laboratory’s Center for Ecotoxicology in Sarasota. Today she oversees the Environmental Health Program, conducting federally funded research into public health impacts from HABs.

“At the same time I became interested in the aerosol effects of red tide on the airway, another group of investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida Department of Health, the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and the University of Miami were joining together to study these impacts in a multidisciplinary approach,” she explains. The team of chemists, aerosol experts, toxicologists, epidemiologists, and others are led by Dr. Kirkpatrick and Dr. Lora Fleming, from the University of Miami. Housed in the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institutes of Health study has been ongoing since 2001.

For the last seven years, they have been conducting an epidemiologic study in people with asthma. They meet at the beach twice a year—once with Florida red tide present and once with no red tide,” says Dr. Kirkpatrick. “We do pre/post testing after a one-hour beach walk, with symptom surveys, spirometry, and nose swabs.” The researchers published preliminary results in a 2007 issue of CHEST, measuring a small but statistically significant difference in FEV1 and changes in symptoms in asthmatics one hour after exposure. Now they’re looking for a biomarker of exposure and tracking changes in asthma over time in people who have been followed since the beginning of the study.

Dr. Kirkpatrick, who was recently appointed to the National Harmful Algal Bloom Committee, a group working to provide a collective voice for stakeholders in the area, says her background in respiratory therapy has greatly facilitated her research, noting that her knowledge of both asthma and spirometry have been invaluable.

“Although I do not work in a ‘traditional’ respiratory therapist role, I still very much want to stay plugged in to my profession and the trends and changes in the profession,” says the researcher. •

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