California family and dog may have died from toxic algae blooms while hiking

Originally published at: California family and dog may have died from toxic algae blooms while hiking | Boing Boing

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Stay off the moores at night.

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How about wait for the autopsy and related analysis to come back?

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The article I read made it sound like this is one of several possibilities being investigated, and rightly so, but the state water board folks aren’t acting like it’s an especially likely explanation. It’s easy to imagine the dog drinking straight from the river, but two experienced hikers, also sharing the water with a baby? And think how quickly it would have had to kill them all since they were all found together. Algae can be toxic and lead to intestinal distress and occasional death, but I don’t think it’s as potent as cyanide.

Not that I’ve got any better theories about this tragedy. Obviously lightning comes to mind, but apparently they were hiking a day after lightning was observed in that area.

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How do you rule out suicide and murder when you are at the stage where you know this little?

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I haven’t seen any reports saying that authorities have “ruled out” either of those possibilities. Just that they haven’t yet found any evidence to support either.

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I think @fuzzyfungus is referring to just the quote from the original post:

But in this article (Mystery of Deaths of Couple, Baby and Their Dog in Sierra National Forest Still Being Probed by Investigators | Inside Edition) it does have this from Kristie Mitchell, public information officer with the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office:
"We are not ruling anything out. And, if it ends up to be a homicide or suicide we will address that as well.”

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Yes, but nothing in that quote suggested to me that they “ruled out” suicide or murder.

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The Happening

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True dat…that quote is vague and does not rule in any direction. I was just speculating, and one can never truly know what a fungus is thinking, especially a fuzzy one.

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Additionally, “Don’t follow the lights!”

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One thing I don’t know - but should! - is whether the filters we use on the trail will filter out whatever toxicity the algae produces. It’s not inconceivable to me that they pulled water from a less-than-ideal source, trusting that their water filter would make it safe to drink/use for formula.

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There is a “raw water” trend, so it’s not entirely impossible. But like you said it would have to be very potent to kill them all so quickly.

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This is a really good point. Reading a bit elsewhere, it seems that cyanotoxins (which blue-green “algae” blooms can produce) are not great candidates for carbon filtration.

Since water is so heavy, it could well be that they were relying on a filtration solution for a longer hike where they knew water sources would be present.

And cyanobacteria bloom best in water temps above 25°C, so this is the ideal time of year for it as well.

It’s certainly plausible–will be interesting to hear the final medical examiner report.

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A raw water trend? What, people are looking for GI distress? To me, that’s not unlike anti-maskers. They must know there will be repercussions, but ideology prevents them from taking precautions.

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The toxic blue-green algae blooms we have in Austin lakes kill dogs very quickly, usually the same night as exposure. I haven’t heard of any humans dying of it but wouldn’t be surprised if they have.

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We have a lake near Port Townsend that has serious algal bloom problems that have killed dogs. They close the park when the blooms get bad, but …

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PT, remember it well from my sailing days. Port Angeles a bit down the road, been there too.

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You’re probably thinking of marine dinoflagellates responsible for things like shellfish poisoning. Freshwater cyanobacteria also produce things like anatoxin-a, originally named “very fast death factor” and I think with an LD50 smaller than cyanide. Mostly associated with animal deaths because people don’t tend to drink algae blooms but still. :slightly_frowning_face:

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I was under the impression that certain algal toxins are paralytic. Isn’t that what makes red tide so dangerous? It’ll paralyze your diaphragm?