SEATTLE, Sept. 23, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- After reports of harmful algae blooms in local bodies of water, the Washington Poison Center is advising the public to be careful when recreating in and around lakes and rivers.
What are harmful algae blooms? Freshwater algae blooms are caused by "blue-green algae," which are a type of bacteria called "cyanobacteria." These bacteria are often found in Washington's lakes, rivers, and ponds, and typically do not harm our health. Blue-green algae can become a problem, however, when certain toxin-producing strains rapidly reproduce (or "bloom")—a common occurrence in the warmer, sunny months of summer and fall. When people or animals swallow these toxins, they can experience nerve and/or liver poisoning.
What does a blue-green algae bloom look like? Blooms often look like a thin to several inch-thick layer of green scum on the surface of water. Some blooms have blue, brown, or reddish coloring. Signs of a harmful bloom include dead fish, ducks, or other animals around the water; sudden illness or death in pets after coming into contact with algae; and/or skin rashes after being in the water.
How can you tell if a bloom is harmful? Laboratory testing is the only way to know if a bloom contains unsafe levels of cyanobacterial toxins. If you see a bloom, do not go into or play in the water, and keep pets and livestock away. To report a bloom or to see if it has already been identified, visit the Washington State Toxic Algae site.
After the bloom is gone, wait until health authorities declare the water safe before you or your pets go into it—it can take more than three weeks for the toxins to clear from the water after being treated.
What are symptoms of cyanobacteria poisoning? People and pets can become sick when they swallow water or eat fish containing high levels of cyanobacterial toxins. Symptoms include headache, fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, and/or vomiting. These symptoms can appear as soon as 15 minutes after ingestion, or hours to days later. People who swim in contaminated water may also experience irritated eyes and skin.
If you think you have come into contact with blue-green algae, shower (with soap) and call the Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.
If your pet becomes ill after a suspected exposure, contact your veterinarian immediately.