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Press Release


December 19, 1997

For more information, contact Dr. Suzanne Jenkins, 804-786-6261
Beeper, 1-800-946-4646 PIN # 144-0539

(Richmond, Va.) -- Virginia continues to investigate the Pocomoke fish kill and look for signs of any health effects in humans. Pfiesteria piscicida has not been identified in Virginia's waterways, though organisms similar to Pfiesteria were identified in the Pocomoke, Great Wicomico and Rappahannock rivers.

"Virginia has committed our best scientists and medical experts to this issue," said State Health Commissioner Randolph L. Gordon, M.D., M.P.H. "We are working with neighboring states and the CDC to get to the bottom of this issue."

The Virginia Department of Health, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Old Dominion University's phytoplankton laboratory and other agencies plan to improve and expand on the actions taken last year to evaluate Virginia's waters for Pfiesteria toxin. Water and sediment samples taken from the Rappahannock, Great Wicomico and Virginia portion of the Pocomoke, in response to fish being found with lesions in the first two rivers and a fish kill in the Pocomoke, revealed Pfiesteria-like organisms. However, when grown in the laboratory these organisms did not produce toxin.

Virginia has assembled a medical team to investigate reports of nine possible exposures to the toxin produced by Pfiesteria-like organisms. The medical team, which includes a neurologist, three internists, two dermatologists and two psychologists, conducted the medical examinations in two phases. The first phase of the examination included a medical history, complete physical, neurological examination and laboratory work. The second phase of the examination included a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a full day of neuropsychological assessment.

Four people have completed both phases of the medical examination and one person has completed only the first phase. The first phase of the examination did not identify any of the five individuals as having medical problems suspected of being associated with Pfiesteria. Two showed abnormal test scores in the second phase that could not readily be attributable to a specific condition or other factor known to affect brain function. A definitive conclusion as to the cause of the abnormalities cannot be made based on available information.

In Maryland's cases, some individuals had low scores on the neuropsychological tests, but returned to normal in eight to 12 weeks. The Virginia medical team plans follow-up testing of the two Virginia patients with unexplained abnormalities on neuropsychological testing.

Since there is no rapid test for the organism or its toxin, the role these factors may play in human health will be determined indirectly by assessing exposure information, medical evaluations and water monitoring. Next year, Virginia will join Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Florida and the Centers for Disease Control to conduct epidemiologic studies on populations that have extensive contact with marine waters. Researchers from the five states and CDC have agreed to use a standard protocol for such studies and will be meeting soon to establish specific parameters for the studies.

As of December 17, the Pfiesteria Information Hotline had received 153 calls since September 17:

  • 110 general information
  • 43 health concern
  • 9 possible exposures
  • 34 unrelated health issues

For information about Pfiesteria or to report health problems, call the Virginia Pfiesteria Hotline at 1-888-238-6154. Callers should be prepared to leave their name and a number where they may be reached during business hours, Monday through Friday.

Since June when Virginia's Pfiesteria Task Force was formed, Governor Allen has appropriated the following funds for this effort:



FY 1998


Epidemiology Research Unit




Monitor Estuarine Waters




Laboratory Technology




Pfiesteria Research




Renovation: Byrd Hall




Total Funding for Pfiesteria







Some of these funds are included in the Governor's budget announced earlier today.


Last Updated: 03-29-2013

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