Health Advisories Issued for Toxic Algae: Harmful to Dogs and Humans

On September 11, 2009, the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) issued a health advisory prompted by high algae levels found in Willow Creek Reservoir, located near Heppner, OR.

Water monitoring has confirmed the presence of blue-green algae that can produce toxins harmful to humans and animals, said Curtis Cude, Hazardous Incident Tracking program coordinator in DHS.

These algae levels are likely to be associated with dangerous toxin concentrations in the water, according to World Health Organization guidelines.

A dog that died suddenly after being in the water near Elk Creek in southern Oregon late last month has tested positive for anatoxin-a, a neurotoxin released by naturally occurring blue-green algae. The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Oregon State University said toxins from the algae is believed to be responsible for four dog deaths, including the one that was tested. All four dogs went into convulsions and died quickly after contact with the algae in Elk Creek.

A health advisory prompted by high algae toxin levels found in Elk Creek was lifted on September 22, 2009 by the state Department of Human Services and the Douglas County Health Department.

Algae blooms appear as thick foam or scum on the water’s surface. They can be bright green, blue-green, white or brown in color.

“Unfortunately, you cannot tell if an algae bloom is toxic just by looking at it. If you come across areas of thick algae take precaution by avoiding water contact and keep pets out of the water,” said Curtis Cude, Hazardous Incident Tracking program manager at DHS.

Swallowing or inhaling water droplets should be avoided, as well as skin contact with water by humans or animals. Drinking water from Willow Creek Reservoir is especially dangerous. Cude advised campers and other visitors that toxins cannot be removed by boiling, filtering or treating the water. DHS advises using another water source not affected by the bloom.

DHS recommends that people who choose to eat fish from waters where algae blooms are present should remove all fat, skin and organs before cooking since toxins are more likely to collect in these tissues.

Exposure to toxins can produce symptoms of numbness, tingling and dizziness that can lead to difficulty breathing or heart problems and require immediate medical attention. Symptoms of skin irritation, weakness, diarrhea, nausea, cramps and fainting should also receive medical attention if they persist or worsen. Children and pets are particularly susceptible.

The Oregon Department of Human Services said Willow Creek Reservoir should be avoided while the high levels persist.

A list of algae-related health advisories can be found on the DHS Harmful Algae Bloom Surveillance (HABS) Program site.

Updated: 2009-09-30 07:00:00

Author: Oregon Veterinary Medical Association