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For Release: Aug. 31, 2012 – Pamela Williams, Office of Communications – 405/271-5601

State Health Officials Urge Oklahomans to be Aware of Blue-Green Algae in Recreational Waters During Holiday Weekend

In preparation for Labor Day weekend water activities, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) reminds Oklahomans to be aware of blue-green algae (BGA) in Oklahoma lakes, ponds, and other bodies of water. Thus far in 2012, the OSDH Acute Disease Service has received 46 reports of illness possibly related to exposure to BGA in Oklahoma waters.  Symptoms experienced by persons with BGA-related illness include fever, body aches, rash, blisters on the skin, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, runny nose, shortness of breath, and wheezing.

BGA, also known as cyanobacteria, are microscopic organisms that live in water. The algae are usually present in low numbers, but when conditions are right, BGA can reproduce rapidly and sometimes form visible algae blooms. BGA can be found in any body of water including lakes, ponds, creeks, and brackish water. BGA blooms can look like foam, scum, mats, or spilled paint on the surface of water. The blooms can be blue, bright green, brown, or red. Some blooms may not affect the appearance of the water; however, as algae in the BGA blooms die, the water may have an unpleasant odor.

BGA can produce toxins that may contaminate drinking or recreational water, and can produce toxins (anatoxin, microcystins, etc.) that can cause illness in humans and animals.  Potential health effects can vary and are dependent upon the type of toxin present and the route of exposure. Direct contact with water that has a BGA bloom can result in a skin rash, hives, or blisters.  Inhaling toxins produced by BGA blooms can result in runny eyes, runny nose, sore throat, or asthma-like symptoms.  Swallowing water with BGA can cause diarrhea, vomiting, or stomach cramps.  Pets are particularly susceptible and can quickly become ill or die from direct contact or swallowing water with BGA.  Persons who experience symptoms described above should contact their health care provider.

The OSDH recommends the following measures to ensure you, your family, and friends have a healthy and safe holiday weekend while enjoying Oklahoma’s recreational water activities.

·         Do not swim or participate in recreational water activities where the water is discolored or where you see foam, scum, or mats of algae on the water.

  • Do not allow pets to swim in or drink discolored, scummy water.
  • If you or your animals accidentally get into a blue-green algae bloom, wash with fresh water and soap after skin contact, and avoid swallowing or inhaling water. Be sure to rinse all swimming suits and other wet clothing well as the bloom can become trapped in the material. Wash animals' fur thoroughly before they start to groom themselves.

·         Respect any water body closures announced by local water regulatory authorities.

For more information regarding waterborne diseases and prevention, please visit:




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