Human Health and HABs
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for Human Health
- Resources for Medical Professionals
- One Health Harmful Algal Bloom System (OHHABS)
How can I or my family be exposed to HABs?
Human exposure to cyanobacteria and associated toxins (cyanotoxins) most commonly occurs through ingestion or skin contact with contaminated water. Inhalation of spray or mist coming off water with high cyanotoxin concentrations may also contribute to exposure during activities such as water-or jet-skiing. Cyanotoxins may also accumulate in fish and shellfish. Children are considered more susceptible to effects from cyanotoxin than adults.
How can I keep myself and my family safe from HABs?
- Check if a waterbody has a reported bloom by checking the HAB Reports Map, contacting the waterbody manager, and looking for posted advisory signs.
- Check to see if the water has a scum or is discolored.
- Practice Healthy Water Habits at your local lake, river, or stream!
- Report any suspected HAB or potential HAB-related illness.
What are signs of possible cyanobacterial toxin poisoning in people?
The following symptoms may occur within 48 hours of exposure to a waterbody with a suspected or confirmed algal bloom:
- sore throat or congestion;
- coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing;
- red, or itchy skin, or a rash;
- skin blisters or hives;
- earache or irritated eyes;
- diarrhea or vomiting;
- headache; and/or,
- abdominal pain.
If people show symptoms of cyanotoxin exposure after contact with water, or with scums or mats of algae, they should receive immediate medical attention. Additional resources are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and by contacting the California Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222).
Hospitals can be alerted to look for signs of cyanotoxin exposure in other patients, especially if these facilities are located near water where HABs may be present. Hospitals should be encouraged to report any suspected or confirmed cases of cyanotoxin exposure to the local health department and to the HAB Portal bloom incident form.
- Local Health Officers Outreach Letter from Interagency Working Group on Harmful Algal Bloom Related Illnesses (April 2018)
The California Environmental Health Tracking Program at the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) will attempt to collect details of reported HAB-related illnesses. CDPH is implementing California’s HAB-related human and animal illness reporting to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) One Health Harmful Algal Bloom System (OHHABS).
- CDC OHHABS fact sheet
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency article on the One Health Approach to Harmful Algal Blooms (May 2018)
- One Health and Cyanobacteria in Freshwater Systems: Animal Illnesses and Deaths are Sentinel Events for Human Health Risks (Hillborn and Beasley, 2018)
For general information on HABs please refer to the HABs FAQ webpage