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Use caution on the river

The mighty Ohio River is a great asset to our region and the nation, but it also is a potentially dangerous waterway that should be respected by those who live, work and play on and around it.

Last week, local health officials warned of a new danger on the river. Belmont County Health Department Sanitarian Rich Lucas said a blue-green algae bloom is occurring between the Greenup Dam in the Huntington, West Virginia, area and our own Pike Island Locks and Dam. Lucas said people should avoid exposing themselves, their pets and their livestock to portions of the river affected by the bloom.

According to Lucas, the “algae” is actually a type of cyanobacteria, and it can make people and animals sick. He said it tends to build up during periods of low rainfall, which can make waterways move more slowly than usual and allow organic matter to accumulate. As the sun shines on this matter, it begins to “bloom,” he said.

If you do come into contact with the algae, which can appear in a variety of colors, you should wash with soap and water. If you experience symptoms after contact — such as skin, eye or throat irritation, an allergic reaction or difficulty breathing – seek medical attention immediately.

It seems that dogs are particularly susceptible to adverse effects of such blooms, largely because of their tendency to play in the water. If your dog is a good fetcher, it is likely they will ingest large amounts of water as they retrieve round objects such as a ball. That means they are likely to get sick if the water where they are playing contains the cyanobacteria.

Still, there is no reason why local residents shouldn’t continue to spend time boating, fishing or otherwise enjoying our beautiful river. Just use extra caution and take steps to prevent exposure to or ingestion of any affected water for both you and your animals.

And, if you suspect that you or your furry friend has ingested water containing the cyanobacteria, seek medical attention immediately.

“Look at the water before you jump in,” Lucas said — good advice no matter where you are about to go for a swim.

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