Thursday, September 15th, 2011
By Shelley Grieshop
Sickness likely caused by Grand Lake algae
Two other reported illnesses remain under investigation
  GRAND LAKE - Ohio Department of Health (ODH) officials say it's likely that toxins in Grand Lake sickened a fisherman in May.
It is the only illness in Ohio this year out of nine reported statewide that has a likely link to algae toxins, according to ODH. The case recently was categorized as "probable" after having laboratory documentation confirming a harmful level of algae toxin was in the water when the victim was exposed.
The fisherman was the first report of an illness from Grand Lake this year. A second case reported in July remains under investigation, and ODH just this week revealed that they are looking into a third case. None of the cases involve Mercer County residents.
Tessie Pollock, spokesperson for ODH, refrained from releasing details about the third case in order to protect the identity of the victim.
The fisherman, an unidentified Montgomery County resident in his late 40s, was exposed during a two-day fishing tournament on the lake this spring, officials said. Investigators determined he exhibited toxin-associated symptoms within a reasonable time after exposure and had not been diagnosed with any other cause for his illness.
The Montgomery County man experienced pneumonia-like symptoms but has since recovered. State officials will not say if he was hospitalized.
The second illness involves a former Mercer County man in his 30s who briefly swam in the lake in early July. ODH received the report Aug. 18. The man was hospitalized for neurological issues and a feeling of heaviness in his chest, local health officials said.
ODH categories cases as: under investigation, suspect, probable, confirmed and lost to follow-up, which means not enough information could be gathered.
Symptoms of exposure to algae toxins can include headaches, rashes, diarrhea, numbness of the lips, tingling in fingers and toes, dizziness and abdominal pain.
Across Ohio this year, three people reported sicknesses from algae exposure at Buckeye Lake, east of Columbus; one at Lake Milton, in northeast Ohio; two at Lake Erie; and three at Grand Lake. Four of the nine reports have been dismissed.
The number of reported cases dropped statewide from 64 in 2010. Pollock credits public education.
"I think education efforts have been very successful," she said, adding people appear to be taking more precautions.
In 2010, a total of 21 people claimed illnesses after visiting Grand Lake. Eight of those cases were eventually identified as probable. The six males and one female ranged in age from 6 to 79. The remaining cases were dismissed.
To date, no algae-related cases in Ohio have been classified as confirmed. ODH criteria requires "a probable case combined with professional judgment based on medical review."
Joyce Jansen, director of nursing at the Mercer County-Celina City Health Department, doubts whether any cases will ever be confirmed.
"The testing's just not there," she said. "There's no confirmatory test."
During the summer of 2010, a Celina man allegedly became ill with neurological and other medical problems after exposure at the lake. A local infectious disease specialist, Dr. Wilfred Ellis, told the newspaper the victim's illness was a confirmed case of toxin poisoning from the lake's algae.
ODH labeled the case probable.
Grand Lake remains under a public health advisory - one of four advisories currently issued by ODH for algae-contaminated waterways. The least serious is an "algae bloom advisory." The two most critical are "no contact" and "drinking water" advisories.
A public health advisory is issued when tests conclude microcystin levels are above six parts per billion (ppb), which they were at Grand Lake all summer. The public is advised that swimming and wading are not recommended, water should not be swallowed and surface scum should be avoided.
If levels reach at least 20 ppb, which they did at various times throughout the summer, and reports of human illness are filed, Grand Lake would be bumped to a no contact advisory. The most recent levels recorded were 11-14 ppb, and they mostly likely will decline due to cooler temperatures.
State officials this week discussed changing the algae advisory system, which was amended last year, by posting general warning signs at all Ohio lakes year-round. The idea reportedly is under consideration and could be implemented as early as next year.
Update information on algae toxin levels and advisories can be found at www.epa.state.oh.us/dsw/HAB.aspx.
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