BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The toxic blue-green algae suspected of killing three Wilmington dogs in a matter of hours could pose human health risks, according to a doctor at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center.
Blue-green algae is actually a term used to refer to a group of bacteria called cyanobacteria.
“People refer to it sort of as pond scum. It’s these little blooms in the water that you can kind of see, usually. It just looks like floating junk that most people would stay away from but as we’ve learned recently, it’s affecting dogs more than anything because dogs like to play in water and they’re more prone to drink it but it can also affect people,” said Dr. Ryan Jordanhazy.
Exposure to the bacteria is often lethal to dogs because it can quickly cause liver failure, but Jordanhazy said human health impacts can range.
“If you get too much on your skin, it can cause a rash, and burning, and itching. If you ingest it, which we certainly don’t recommend, the toxins from the algae/bacteria can affect you internally, mainly your liver. So, the big thing is, if you do happen to ingest a large amount it could be potentially very dangerous for you,” he said.
Jordanhazy warns that babies and children are more susceptible to health impacts as they may be more prone to drinking pond or lake water.
“They’re smaller so they would have a higher concentration based off of even drinking a small amount,” he said.
He recommends avoiding standing bodies of water during the summer months when the algae seems to be more prominent, but noted the ocean is not a threat.
If you do swim in a pond, lake, or other standing body of water and feel strange after, Dr. Jordanhazy said it is a good idea to be checked out by a doctor.
“Some of the first symptoms are gastrointestinal related, nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, things like that,” he said.
Jordanhazy has never personally seen a patient with issues from this bacteria, and there is still a lot to learn about it, but given the recent string of dog deaths, he said it is important to be aware of it.
“It’s not a serious, serious threat to people we don’t see it often, if at all but now that it’s making the news with the animals we want people to be aware,” Dr. Jordanhazy said.