Blue-green algae and toxins found in Klamath County lake
The Oregon Health Authority is updating a health advisory to include all of Upper Klamath Lake, located off U.S. Route 97 and U.S. Route 140 (locally known as Lakeshore Drive) north of Klamath Falls in Klamath County.
The agency issued a health advisory for Howard Bay in Upper Klamath Lake (also known locally as Howards Bay or Howard’s Bay) on July 28, and updated it to include Shoalwater Bay on August 8.
Water monitoring has confirmed the presence of blue-green algae and the toxins they produce in Upper Klamath Lake. These toxin concentrations can be harmful to humans and animals.
People should always avoid areas of water with visible scum that looks foamy, scummy, thick like paint, pea-green, blue-green or brownish red. Swimming and high-speed water activities such as water skiing or power boating where ingestion and inhalation exposure can occur is discouraged. Swallowing or inhaling water droplets as a result of these water activities in areas where a bloom has been identified, or an advisory issued, can expose people to the toxins being produced. Although toxins are not absorbed through the skin, people who have skin sensitivities that come into contact with a bloom may experience a puffy, red rash at the affected area.
Drinking water directly from Upper Klamath Lake at this time is especially dangerous. OHA Public Health Division officials advise campers and other recreational visitors that toxins cannot be removed by boiling, filtering or treating water with camping-style filters.
People who draw in-home water directly from the lake are advised to use an alternative water source because private treatment systems are not proven effective for removing algae toxins. However, public drinking water systems can reduce algae toxins through proper filtration and disinfection. If people connected to public water systems have questions about treatment and testing, they should contact their water supplier. If community members have questions about water available at nearby campgrounds, they should contact campground management.
Oregon health officials recommend that those who choose to eat fish from waters where algae blooms are present remove all fat, skin and organs before cooking, as toxins are more likely to collect in these tissues. Fillets should also be rinsed with clean water. Public health officials also advise people to not eat freshwater clams or mussels from Upper Klamath Lake and that Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations do not allow the harvest of these shellfish from freshwater sources. Crayfish muscle can be eaten, but internal organs and liquid fat should be discarded.
Exposure to toxins can produce a variety of symptoms including numbness, tingling and dizziness that can lead to difficulty breathing or heart problems, and require immediate medical attention. Symptoms of skin irritation, weakness, diarrhea, nausea, cramps and fainting should also receive medical attention if they persist or worsen. Children and pets are at increased risk for exposure because of their size and level of activity. People who bring their pets to Howard Bay for recreation activities should take special precautions to keep them from drinking from or swimming in the lake, and from licking their fur in the event they swim in affected water.
The advisory will be lifted when the concern no longer exists.
With proper precautions to avoid activities during which water can be ingested, people are encouraged to visit Upper Klamath Lake and enjoy activities such as canoeing, fishing, camping, hiking, biking, picnicking, and bird watching. Boating is safe as long as speeds do not create excessive water spray. Although inhalation risk is much lower than ingestion, it can present a risk.
For health information or to report an illness, contact OHA at 971-673-0400. For campground or lake information, call the local management agency.
OHA maintains an updated list of all health advisories on its website. To learn if an advisory has been issued or lifted for a specific water body, visit the Harmful Algae Blooms website and select “algae bloom advisories,” or call the Oregon Public Health Division toll-free information line at 877-290-6767.
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