Interest in Pfiesteria spawns creation of several Web sites Plethora of information given daily on Internet about toxic microorganism

September 23, 1997|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Just two months ago few people had ever heard of Pfiesteria piscicida.

These days, seven Web sites and part of a home page are dedicated to it.

Vast amounts of information about Pfiesteria -- fact sheets, charts, news reports and scientific articles -- are being disseminated each day on home pages spawned by interest in the microorganism that has killed thousands of fish and caused the closing of sections of three waterways on Maryland's Eastern Shore. It also is believed to have made many people sick.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Library set up a Pfiesteria home page last week, and the Discovery Channel announced yesterday that its science section on this week's home page would be dedicated to a discussion of Pfiesteria.

"It's something that's affecting the waterways from Delaware to North Carolina, and we think it has appeal nationwide," said Katherine Lamoureux, a spokeswoman for the Discovery Channel.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture, North Carolina State University, Pamlico County, N.C., and the Nuese River lTC Foundation Inc. a New Bern, N.C., environmental group, also have set up home pages or dedicated much of their existing Web sites to getting out the word about Pfiesteria.

The Maryland Sea Grant College, an educational program that funds aquatic research with state and federal moneys, set up a Pfiesteria home page Aug. 27.

"There's a need out there for the latest information, and that's what we're trying to provide," said Jack Greer, assistant director of the Sea Grant College in College Park, Prince George's County.

It is not known how many of those surfing the Pfiesteria home pages are scientists or the curious public. But the demand for information has been steady.

"The desire for information out there has just been amazing," Greer said. He said 2,282 "hits," or visits from individual computer users, have been recorded on the group's home page since it was set up Aug. 27 and that 285 hits were recorded yesterday.

"You can imagine taking 400 calls in two days. That's a lot of calls, so we're quite pleased," Greer said. He said many Web surfers are jumping from the Maryland Sea Grant site to other sites through "links."

What's available on the home pages is an eclectic variety of information about Pfiesteria, its history and its dangers.

The Maryland Sea Grant College site provides news accounts from area newspapers, maps showing where Pfiesteria has been detected and answers from experts at the college and from the University of Maryland School of Medicine's Aquatic Pathobiology Center to frequently asked questions about Pfiesteria.

The Discovery Channel science section includes a forum that allows Internet surfers to ask experts questions.

North Carolina State University's Aquatic Botany Lab home page offers an authoritative analysis of Pfiesteria and its effects. The Web site set up by the Neuse River Foundation has a slide showing the microorganism superimposed over a fact sheet describing its effects on humans.

The National Agricultural Library site is more of a clearinghouse, providing a list of sources in North Carolina and Maryland, while the Annonline site offers a photograph and a biography of JoAnn Burkholder, the North Carolina State researcher credited with discovering Pfiesteria.

Pub Date: 9/23/97

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