CDC releases data on blue-green algae impacts to humans and animals

Blue-green algae are toxic to humans and animals.

The CDC has released the first round of nationally sourced data collected through its national reporting system One Health Harmful Algal Bloom System. The system provides an eletronic platform for state officials to submit information on illnesses to humans and animals due to exposure to blue-green algae. The system collected data from 18 states, including Florida. The data is from 2016 through 2018.

Reporting the data is voluntary and the CDC hopes more states will join Florida and the program as time goes on.

“There are a lot of questions, a lot of data gaps around cyanobacteria blooms and their health effects,” said Dr. Virginia Roberts, an epidemiologist with the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, part of the CDC. “It’s an emerging issue for sure.”

One reason for the gap is that even as reports show the frequency, intensity and spread of harmful algal bloom no national public health system tracked the impact on human health prior to 2016.

“Prior to 2016, there was no national platform for recording these events. So as a country, we weren’t collecting the data about these health events,” Roberts said.

Roberts authored the report on harmful algal blooms and their effect on human and animal health.

“Most of the harmful algal bloom reports that we received were related to cyanobacteria blooms, which people often call blue-green algae,” Roberts said.

That’s the algae often found in Southwest Florida.

The top symptoms include gastrointestinal distress, headaches, fever and lethargy.

“It helps us understand a little bit more the magnitude of the problem in terms of who’s getting sick, when they’re getting sick, where these events are occurring,” Roberts said.

The 18 reporting states reported 421 harmful algal blooms, leading to 389 cases of human illness, but not death were reported.

The same can’t be said for animals.

During that two-year period, algal blooms impacted 413 animals, killing 369 of them.


What is the One Health Harmful Algal Bloom System

Roberts’ report on the surveillance of harmful algal blooms 

Reporter:Veronica Marshall
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