Posted by: Vicki Burns | August 3, 2019

Illnesses Caused by Blue-Green Algae to Be Tracked in Florida – Should We Do this in Manitoba?

Brenda Vielhaber's pic of VB Aug 2017

Blue-green algae Lake Winnipeg , photo B.Vielhaber

Blue-green algae and red tide have been plaguing parts of Florida for the past few summers. Now healthcare providers have been given a special code to use when recording a patient’s illness if they think it has been caused by toxins present in some blue-green algae and red tide. Here in Manitoba we are experiencing very bad blue-green algae in parts of Lake Winnipeg as well as several other lakes around the province but there is no reporting of illnesses related to these blooms.
In Florida there is hope that documenting the number of humans experiencing health problems related to the algae and red tide will elevate the urgency of taking measures to decrease the problem. We need to take similar measures here in Manitoba because the problem seems to be growing. Although the Manitoba government does test for toxins present in blooms that are observed, there is no data collection of any human illnesses resulting from exposure to the blooms.
The health effects of short term exposure to blue-green algae are quite well known. Microcystin, the most common toxin present, can cause nausea and vomiting, rashes and hay fever type symptoms as well as liver damage. There is less know about chronic long term exposure but there is more discussion now about BMAA, a toxin in some blue-green algae, being linked to motor neuron diseases like ALS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. There is documentation in Florida that toxins from blue-green algae can be airborne and people living near waterways affected by the algae can become ill from just breathing in the air.
There is no denying it – blue-green algae can have very serious impacts on human health. It’s time we publicly acknowledged this and begin to measure the extent of the problem by keeping statistics on illnesses triggered by exposure to the toxins sometimes present.


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