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CDC launches reporting system for harmful algal blooms and associated human and animal illnesses


The CDC offers a reporting system for harmful algal blooms, as well as a  website with important information for both health officials and the public. The One Health Harmful Algal Bloom System (OHHABS) collects data on harmful algal blooms and associated human and animal illness. This voluntary reporting system is accessible to state and territorial public health partners. OHHABS is an example of One Health surveillance. One Health is an approach that recognizes that human, animal, and environmental health are interconnected, and that human health, animal health, and environmental health communities can more effectively address many linked health challenges by working together. The new Harmful Algal Bloom website provides information about harmful algal blooms and associated illnesses for the general public, including ways that people can protect themselves, their families and their pets.

3 Things to Know

  • Harmful algal blooms are caused by the rapid growth of algae. They can look like foam, scum, or mats on the surface of water and can be different colors.
  • Harmful algal blooms can occur in warm fresh, marine or brackish water with abundant nutrients. Harmful algal blooms can harm animals, people, or the local ecology by producing toxins that get into the air, water, or food or by severely depleting oxygen in the water when the bloom decomposes.  People can experience coughing or breathing problems when they inhale harmful algal bloom toxins or develop rashes when the toxins come in contact with their skin. Swallowing the water can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, or neurological symptoms. In addition, people can get sick by eating fish or shellfish or drinking tap water contaminated with harmful algal bloom toxins.
  • The One Health Harmful Algal Bloom System will collect data to help health officials understand the severity and extent of illnesses caused by harmful algal blooms both in people and animals and the occurrence of harmful algal blooms. OHHABS development began in 2014 as a collaborative effort between state and federal partners. It has leveraged existing technical capacity for electronic reporting at CDC, lessons learned from a previous HAB-associated illness surveillance effort that ended in 2012, and support from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), which will use OHHABS data to evaluate and inform restoration efforts for the Great Lakes ecosystem.

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