Italy: swimming ban in Genoa

Swimming on a 5-kilometer (3-mile) stretch of beaches outside the city has been banned since Saturday, said Federico Grasso, a spokesman for a regional environment protection agency.

He said the danger was detected early, avoiding a repeat of a similar scare last summer when some 200 people needed treatment for high fever and breathing problems after inhaling the toxin, the AP reports.

The few people affected over the weekend this year reported skin rashes and breathing difficulties. All had been treated and released without being hospitalized and it was not even clear if all the cases were related to the algae, Grasso said.

The tropical algae "Ostreopsis ovata" usually lives on the bottom of the sea but rises to the surface when blooming, and releases a neurotoxin into the air. The algae are common in the Mediterranean and not dangerous in normal concentrations, but an unusually large blooming on Genoa's coast produced a dangerous amount of toxin.

Local authorities would decide in a meeting later Wednesday whether to extend the swimming ban, Grasso said. A recent respite in the heat wave that has hit Genoa and the whole of northern Italy suggests the problem may soon be over, as high temperatures are the main cause of the algae's blooming, he said.

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