Among the problems arising from this summer’s extended heat wave is the potential for toxic blue-green algae to show up in lakes and ponds.
“Blue-green algae is typically only a problem during the hottest part of the summer,” said Kansas State University veterinarian Larry Hollis. “It appears that we are seeing an increase in cases this year because f the extended heat period and/or lack of additional rain.”
As in much of the country, July temperatures in Kansas have soared near or above 100 degrees for numerous consecutive days.
The algae are toxic to humans, as well as animals. Livestock species often serve as sentinels for human illness, said Hollis, who specializes in beef cattle care with K-State Research and Extension.
The conditions have prompted the Kansas state public health veterinarian and the Kansas State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory to issue a joint request to Kansas veterinarians, asking that they report suspected illness in animals due to BGA. Such reports go to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment Epidemiology Hotline at 1-877-427-7317, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Most of the samples the diagnostic lab has tested so far this summer have had BGA present, sometimes in very high numbers, Hollis said.
Blue-Green Algae Details for Humans and Animals
Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, are prominent in Kansas waters. And, under certain conditions, harmful algal blooms (also called HABs) produce toxins that pose a health risk to people and animals, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The toxins have been responsible for several dogs’ death.
These blooms are an emerging public health issue in Kansas. In 2010, public health advisories or warnings were issued for public waters in seven counties, due to HABs.
So far in 2011, the KDHE has received reports of at least two cases of human illness, due to contact with HABs. An interactive by-county Kansas map at http://maps.kdhe.state.ks.us/bgacountycurrent/ displays the lakes currently implicated by HAB reports.
Cyanobacteria and their toxins in fresh waters have been associated with human and animal illness in at least 36 U.S. states. The greatest risk of adverse human health effects is after exposure through ingestion or inhalation of water droplets and cyanobacterial cells during recreational activities, such as swimming and water skiing. Skin contact with high concentrations of cyanobacteria, independent of the level of toxins, may also cause adverse health effects.