Dog died from algae on Umpqua

Health officials hope confirmation that a dog died from ingesting blue-green algae along the Umpqua River will persuade Oregonians to take public-health algae advisories more seriously.

Lab tests completed Thursday confirmed that the dog was the first pet fatality caused by the toxins released from algae now found regularly during summer months across Oregon, including Jackson County.

During some algae blooms, some Oregonians have shown little regard for posted volunteer advisories against water contact during and after the blooms, whose die-off can release toxins capable of killing a dog in less than an hour, health officials said. There have been no human fatalities from blue-green algae in Oregon.

“I hope this is a wake-up call and gets people to think twice before they go into any water body with their pets or kids — especially when there are signs up,” said Jerry Heidel, director of the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Oregon State University, where the dog’s cause of death was confirmed.

“Government officials just don’t put signs up for something to do,” Heidel said.

Jackson Baures, environmental health coordinator in Jackson County, said Thursday’s news could change the way his office posts stay-away-from-the-water signs during algae blooms.

The signs — by which some people swam during an algae bloom last year at Lost Creek Lake — could be beefed up to include information about the dog’s death.

“Certainly, when something like this happens, it’s going to weigh on how we deal with (postings),” Baures said.

The dog tested this week was one of two that died last month while along lower Elk Creek at its confluence with the Umpqua at Elkton, health officials said.

In all, four dogs were reported dead around that area last month, and those deaths led health officials to discover unhealthy levels of neurotoxins last week and post a still-active advisory against all water contact there.

Heidel said Thursday’s test results showed the dog was poisoned with anatoxin-a.

He theorized that the dog drank some of the algae, which was quickly broken down by stomach acid to release the toxin, which would trigger symptoms such as muscle tremors, respiratory problems and even convulsions.

“Once they start to show clinical signs, the prognosis for recovery is slim at best,” Heidel said. “Typically, death within an hour can be expected. It’s very rapid.”

The Umpqua area where the dogs died was not posted with public-health warnings at the time.

Already this year, public-health advisories have been issued — and later lifted — at Lost Creek Lake near Trail and Whetstone Pond in White City.

Baures said the incident should prompt people to be vigilant about inspecting water for the greenish or brownish hues associated with algae wherever they go.

“The reality is, you don’t know where these things are occurring,” Baures said.

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