Posted by: Vicki Burns | September 9, 2012

Blue-green Algae in Oklahoma Cause Illness in 46 People

I was surprised to see this headline pop up in the last few days. “Oklahoma reports 46 people ill from exposure to blue-green algae”. It is one of the few times I’ve seen an actual official statement about people becoming ill from exposure to blue-green algae. The warnings we’re seeing all over North America, including in my home province of Manitoba, are becoming more frequent and more serious this summer. However in Canada, at least in Manitoba, I’m not aware of any official government department tracking cases of illness caused by blue-green algae.

Blue-green algae on shores of Lake Winnipeg

Anecdotally, I’ve heard from a few people about instances of human illness caused by exposure to the algae, including a windsurfer who found himself in the middle of a bloom after surfing out a distance from shore. The sight of the turquoise-streaked water that is indicative of the presence of blue-green algae would seem to warn people away by virtue of how unnatural it looks. However if it is a windy day, the algae will get mixed in with the water and not be nearly as visible.
There is good information available about the possible human health effects of exposure to blue-green algae as noted in this information from the World Health Organization but I think it will be important for governments in Canada to start a system for recording data on how many people are becoming ill related to blue-green algae. That kind of information may cause many more people to pay attention to this growing threat to our freshwater and ultimately, to take action to decrease the problem.

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