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Kern County Public Health Department warns of the dangers of blue-green algae in Lake Isabella

Posted: 4:15 PM, Jun 01, 2022
Updated: 2022-06-01 21:29:48-04
Blue-green Algae (FILE)

LAKE ISABELLA, Calif. (KERO) — As we enter the summer season boating, tubing, and many other lake activities will be taking place within our local waterways. However, the Department of Public Health is reminding Kern County about a dangerous bacteria that is currently present in Lake Isabella.

The layer of green that you in Lake Isabella is called cyanobacteria. Or more commonly known as blue-green algae. And with the hot weather approaching the Kern County Public Health Department is urging recreational lake users and dog owners to proceed with caution by observing signs of active algal blooms.

Cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae, are microscopic organisms found naturally in all types of water. These single-celled organisms live in fresh, brackish (combined salt and fresh water), and marine water. These organisms use sunlight to make their own food. In warm, nutrient-rich (high in phosphorus and nitrogen) environments, cyanobacteria can multiply quickly, creating blooms that spread across the water’s surface. The blooms might become visible.

Michelle Corson with the Kern County Public Health Department says that during the summertime they monitor Lake Isabella on a month-to-month basis and conduct testing at eight different areas to see if the presence of this algae has reached dangerous levels.

“We just want our families and visitors to be aware and to take steps to protect themselves from these potentially harmful blooms,” says Corson. “We have had our first positive. It's the cautionary level that has been identified in the auxiliary dam boat area so we're at the lowest level in that specific portion of lake isabella currently.”

The cyanotoxins in the algae are assigned a "trigger level" based on the level of toxins sampled at each site. And although Lake Isabella is currently in the cautionary stage Corson says it is still very harmful to the human body.

“If you are a human and you ingest it, you can become nauseous. You can have diarrhea and vomiting. You also can just get it exposure, more dermal exposure, and maybe have a slight rash. So it really can vary but if you feel as though you'll come into contact with this blue-green algae, we would definitely have you seek medical attention and talk to your doctor and let them know that you think you come into contact with this.”

Corson adds that humans are not the only ones at risk when it comes to exposure to cyanobacteria. Those who like to bring their dogs out to the lake also need to be aware and monitor their pets.

“Animals are also at very high risk, specifically dogs because our dogs love to go and they love to swim in these bodies of water. What is particularly dangerous for dogs is unlike humans they're going to ingest that water. They're going to swallow that water. And it could be particularly dangerous for them. So you are really going to want to watch your pet and avoid areas where these blooms have been identified and not let them go and swim near these blooms.”

If your dog were to come in contact with the algae, Corson advises to wash their fur and if they begin to distribute similar behavior, like vomiting or signs of being lethargic, seek veterinary care as soon as possible and continue to be aware of your surroundings in the water

With the cautionary level that Lake Isabella is at right now, Corson says that community members can still enjoy the lake. However public health encourages everyone to avoid swimming near areas where an algal bloom is present.


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More Information on Cyanobacteria

How are cyanobacteria blooms formed?

Cyanobacteria blooms form when cyanobacteria, which are normally found in the water, start to multiply very quickly. Blooms can form in warm, slow-moving waters that are rich in nutrients from sources such as fertilizer runoff or septic tank overflows. Cyanobacteria blooms need nutrients to survive. The blooms can form at any time, but most often form in late summer or early fall.

What does a cyanobacteria bloom look like?

You might or might not be able to see cyanobacteria blooms. They sometimes stay below the water’s surface, they sometimes float to the surface. Some cyanobacteria blooms can look like foam, scum, or mats, particularly when the wind blows them toward a shoreline. The blooms can be blue, bright green, brown, or red. Blooms sometimes look like paint floating on the water’s surface. As cyanobacteria in a bloom die, the water may smell bad, similar to rotting plants.

Why are some cyanbacteria blooms harmful?

Cyanobacteria blooms that harm people, animals, or the environment are called cyanobacteria harmful algal blooms. Harmful cyanobacteria blooms may affect people, animals, or the environment by:

  • Blocking the sunlight that other organisms need to live. Cyanobacteria blooms can steal the oxygen and nutrients other organisms need to live.
  • Making toxins, called cyanotoxins. Cyanotoxins are among the most powerful natural poisons known. They can make people, their pets, and other animals sick. Unfortunately, there are no remedies to counteract the effects.
  • You cannot tell if a bloom has toxins by looking at it.

How are people or animals that have been exposed to cyanobacteria toxins treated?

If you or your pet comes in contact with a cyanobacteria, wash yourself and your pet thoroughly with fresh water.

  • If you or your pet swallow water from where there is a harmful algae bloom, call your doctor, a Poison Center, or a veterinarian.
  • Call a veterinarian if your animal shows any of the following symptoms of cyanobacteria poisoning: loss of appetite, loss of energy, vomiting, stumbling and falling, foaming at the mouth, diarrhea, convulsions, excessive drooling, tremors and seizures, or any other unexplained sickness after being in contact with water.

Cyanobacteria FAQ by Anthony Wright on Scribd