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Kern Public Health warns swimmers about cyanobacteria levels in Lake Isabella

Cyanobacteria (or blue-green algae) produce a toxin that can be harmful to both people and animals if it gets onto their skin or into their bodies.
lake isabella recreation
Posted at 10:52 PM, Jun 23, 2023

LAKE ISABELLA, Calif. (KERO) — If you're planning to head out to Lake Isabella this summer, there is something the Kern County Department of Public Health wants you to know about when it comes to recreational activities and natural water: cyanobacteria.

Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, is capable of producing toxins that can make people and animals very sick, and it's something Michelle Corson with KCDPH is warning summer swimmers to be on the lookout for.

"What this really is, it's naturally occurring algal blooms that happen in bodies of water, and certain things like how warm it is, how much the water is moving, how many nutrients are feeding these blooms, these play a role in producing these potentially harmful toxins," said Corson.

According to Corson, KCDPH goes out to the lake every month to conduct tests for blue-green algae. Most recently, the department tested 16 different areas of Lake Isabella and found that the Hanning Flat and Tillie Creek boat launch areas tested positive for the presence of cyanobacteria at a cautionary level. 'Cautionary' is the lowest of 3 cyanobacteria advisory levels.

However, Corson says just because it's at the lowest level doesn't mean it isn't still potentially harmful.

"If you were to come in contact, you have anything from a more dermal exposure, which means you're maybe going to have a rash and some burning, or if you were to ingest this, you could become sick and nauseous, vomiting," said Corson. "Anything like that you are concerned about you're going to want to seek medical attention."

Corson says not only should you be looking out for yourself, but it's also important to keep a close eye on your dog if you bring them while visiting the lake. They too can be impacted by cyanobacterial toxins.

"Our dogs are going to be more likely to go out in that water. They can potentially ingest that water, or when they get out of the water they often will lick their paws and their fur and then ingest it that way," said Corson. "That's when it becomes more dangerous and of concern."

And if you plan on fishing at Lake Isabella, Corson recommends that you throw away the guts and clean the meat after filleting it with tap or bottled water before you cook and eat it.

"We're at just the cautionary yellow level at the moment. If we get to the higher levels, we say to avoid fishing altogether. This is, again, something that we want our community to watch that signage, read what those warning signs say and the steps that you should take," said Corson.

For more information about where exactly the blue-green algae cautionary areas and advisory levels in Lake Isabella are, Kern Public Health maintains an interactive map of the areas they've tested and their results on their website.