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Washington DOH confirms increased amounts of harmful algae blooms in lakes and rivers

The Washington State Department of Health is advising the public to take precautions while swimming in lake and rivers this summer.

WASHINGTON, USA — Harmful algae blooms that can cause illness in people and animals have been found in some Washington lakes and rivers, according to the state Department of Health (DOH).

Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae is found most commonly in lakes but can occur in rivers and streams with warm, slow-moving and stagnant waters. The DOH has attributed the extreme heat this summer and lower than normal water levels as causing a perfect storm for algae blooms. It has created the ideal environment for organisms to easily grow and multiply.

“Due to ongoing drought and warm temperatures in our state, lakes, rivers, and streams are under tremendous stress right now,” said Acting Chief Science Officer Scott Lindquist, MD. 

“As a result, we are receiving reports of toxic algae blooms in areas we have not seen before.”

Traces of blue-green algae were recently found in samples taken from the Little Spokane River following the deaths of three dogs who swam there, according to the Washington State Department of Ecology.

Washington State Department of Ecology and Spokane Regional Health District are investigating Spokane area water sources after those pet deaths in part of the river near Chattaroy.  

According to the DOH, the toxicity of each bloom can vary and is difficult to predict. They say the toxin levels can change from day to day, one day being safe the next causing serious illness. 

It is impossible to tell how dangerous the algae can be by looking at it. Only testing can determine the danger level. 

The Department of Ecology said the level of blue-green algae found in the Little Spokane River water is not a level that would prompt a closure but it does mean cyanobacteria is producing a toxin in the water. A spokesperson said the presence of blue-green algae does not give a clear answer about whether it was the cause of the dogs’ deaths but it doesn't rule it out. 

The DOH advises pet owners to keep an eye on their dogs after coming out of water where there might be algae blooming. The most common exposure comes from dogs drinking contaminated water, swallowing water while swimming, or licking cyanobacteria from their fur. 

Possible signs that your pet might have been exposed to a harmful algae bloom may include vomiting and/or diarrhea, loss of coordination and tremors and seizures. 

The family of the three dogs who swam in the Little Spokane River said they died 20 minutes after they came inside to dry off. Most cases of blue-green algae poisoning are sicker for a longer amount of time.

Pet health experts from Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine say 60% of dogs who were diagnosed with blue-green algae poisoning died from it.

The DOH says people and pets should not swim in and limit exposure to water that is under a health advisory or is listed as having toxic algae bloom and contact a healthcare provider immediately if you become ill or have symptoms after suspected exposure to algae bloom.