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Coughing, sneezing and runny eyes. The all-too-common red tide event is bad enough to send beach goers packing. Combine that with an uptick in COVID-19 cases and a bronchitis outbreak and it can spell disaster for your respiratory system.

“It’s very fascinating because we’re in a major pandemic that doesn’t seem to have an end in sight,” said Dr. John Greene, chair of Moffitt Cancer Center's Infectious Diseases Department. 

“Don’t be surprised if you have friends, family, neighbors who are ill.”

With similar symptoms for all three, it can be tough to tell the difference between illnesses.

Dr. John Greene

According to Greene, red tide side effects can be similar to seasonal allergies with symptoms like itchy eyes and nose, clear nasal discharge, sore scratchy throat and lots of sneezing. The Florida Department of Health recommends people with chronic respiratory problems like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease avoid exposure to red tide toxins. 

“Red tide is quick onset, quick resolution,” said Greene. “As for COVID-19 and bronchitis, you can’t really tell them apart, they act similar. But, if you have lost taste or smell, it’s probably COVID.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with COVID-19 have reported a wide range of symptoms from mild to severe. You may have COVID-19 if you are experiencing:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

While COVID-19 and red tide have been a known threat to Floridians, the rise in bronchitis cases has come somewhat at a surprise.

“Hospitals have to handle influxes,” said Greene. “Respiratory illnesses usually occur in the wintertime, now this in the summertime when you’re supposed to have the least, defying normal trajectory.”