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Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Algae toxins likely sickened seven people

No cases confirmed, Ohio Department of Health reports

By Shelley Grieshop
GRAND LAKE - Seven people from five area counties fell ill this summer with symptoms likely linked to Grand Lake's polluted water.
The six males and one female range in age from 6 to 79 years old, according to data released late Wednesday by Jen House of the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). The names of the victims were not released, however, none of the cases are considered life-threatening, House said.
The state's health department received 21 reports of illnesses linked to the lake. Of those, seven were labeled probable; four are still being investigated; and 10 have been ruled not a case. No confirmed cases exist at this time, House said.
"Cases are interviewed and classified based on the strength of evidence by comparing information on the case to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) proposed case definitions," she explained.
House said the seven "probable" cases met criteria for a suspect case and laboratory documentation exists of a harmful algae toxin in the lake water. The cases involve three people from Mercer County and one each from Auglaize, Shelby, Allen and Montgomery counties, she said.
Symptoms reported by those who became ill include headaches, rashes and diarrhea, health officials said.
Confirmed cases must meet criteria for a probable case, combined with a professional judgment. Although ODH and local health officials have not confirmed any cases, a local infectious disease specialist, Dr. Wilfred Ellis, in late July said "there is no question in my mind" the illness plaguing a Celina man was due to the lake's toxic blue-green algae.
Despite Ellis' opinion, the case of Danny Jenkins, 43, of Highland Park, remains categorized as "probable" by ODH officials. Jenkins reportedly has yet to return to his factory job and continues treatment for neurological and other unresolved medical problems. He believes he was indirectly exposed to the toxins while bathing his algae-covered dog, who later died.
Ellis told the newspaper on Wednesday the Jenkins' case remains the only one confirmed by him to be lake related.
"I'm just glad things are looking better for the lake. I'm hopeful things will return back to normal next year," Ellis said.
Massive algae blooms appeared on the lake this summer, which prompted state officials to issue a no contact with the water advisory in July. The state last month lifted that advisory. Several experimental projects have been undertaken by local, state and federal officials to help clean it.
During a Mercer County-Celina City Health Department meeting Wednesday, nursing and infectious disease director Joyce Jansen reported 15 lake-related illnesses within the county. Of those, "only one had real potential," she told the board.
When asked by a board member, Jansen confirmed it was the highly-publicized case involving Jenkins.
"It's still not been confirmed," county health commissioner Dr. Philip Masser reminded the board.
Additional online story on this date
ST. MARYS - A 42-year-old St. Marys woman died Wednesday night after she was struck by a pickup truck while walking along Grand Lake near her home.
Nancy A. Hertenstein, 42, was pronounced dead at Miami Valley Hospital, Dayton, where she was taken by CareFlight helicopter. [More]
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