Health Department reports on risks toxic algae can pose to people, animals

Posted at 11:48 PM on Aug 21, 2019


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Earlier this month, toxic algae caused the death of three beloved pets within hours of playing in a pond in Wilmington.

The Iredell County Health Department provided the following information to help people keep themselves and their pets safe:

This blue-green alga, known as cyanobacteria, are a group of organisms that can live in freshwater, saltwater or brackish water. Blooms can be discolored water or surface scums that can be bright green, blue, red, or brown in color and look like floating or submerged clumps, flecks, or mats on the surface of ponds and lakes.

Most times, this alga drifts towards shallow areas where young children and animals typically play and wade. It’s important to note that you cannot tell if a bloom is toxic by looking at it.

Toxic algae can affect the nervous system, liver and kidneys in humans and animals. It can be especially dangerous for dogs, who drink the water or ingest the blooms by licking themselves.

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) recommends the following steps to safeguard pets and children from harmful cyanobacterial (blue-green algal) blooms:
• Keep children and pets away from waters that appear discolored or scummy.
• Do not handle or touch large accumulations ("scums" or mats) of algae.
• Do not water ski or jet ski over algal mats.
• Do not use scummy water for cleaning or irrigation.
• If you accidently come into contact with an algal bloom, wash thoroughly.
• If your pet appears to stumble, stagger, or collapse after being in a pond, lake or river, seek veterinary care immediately.
• If your child appears ill after being in waters containing a bloom, seek medical care immediately.
• If you are unsure whether or not a bloom is present, it is best to stay out of the water.

Other issues related to climate change affect algal blooms, including salinity changes from droughts, higher levels of carbon dioxide, extreme rainfall that promotes runoff of man-made toxins and sea level rise that causes warm shallow waters, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

If you come into contact with blue-green algae, get out of the area and wash off with soap and water.

For some people, blue-green algae can cause rashes, stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.

See your doctor if you think blue-green algae has made you sick.


For more information regarding cyanobacteria please visit: or

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