If you grew up playing Frogger and Pitfall on Atari as I did, I have good news! You’re officially almost qualified to swim in Florida lakes! Alligators, snakes, turtles … you’re covered. I did say “almost,” though. There are two things Atari didn’t address in a game: blue-green algae and brain-eating amoeba.
Blue-green algae are a type of bacteria that is common in Florida’s freshwater environments. According to the Polk County Health Department, a bloom occurs when the rapid growth of algae leads to an accumulation of cells that discolor water, often produce floating mats, and emit a foul odor.
Unfortunately, all the factors that can lead to bloom development — bright sunshine, warm water temperatures, still water, and excess nutrients — are everyday occurrences for Florida.
According to the Florida Health Department, blue-green algae can cause rashes, stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. At its worst, severe exposures can affect the liver and nervous system. People and pets should not swim in contaminated areas.
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Even though this one sounds like it’s straight from a horror movie, it’s something to be mindful of if you swim in Florida lakes. Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba that thrives in warm waters, can enter the human body when water gets into the nasal and sinus passages. Once it migrates to the brain, it can cause a fatal infection. It’s worth noting that instances are extremely rare.
UF/IFAS says the amoeba lives in the sediments of warm water, so the best way to stay safe is to avoid stirring up the bottom of lakes and discouraging children from digging and playing in the shallow waters and shore of lakes.
The more you know, the safer you are!