Brittney Fox decided to take her toddlers to Blue Marsh Lake for the first time on Saturday, July 23, so they could cool off after the temperature soared to 97 degrees. They sat on the beach and let the wake of passing boats splash over their legs.
“We were at the water’s edge maybe 15 or 20 minutes,” Fox said. “We didn’t stay there very long.”
The next morning, her son, Declan, 1½, and daughter, Ember, 2½, woke up with rashes, fever, sore throat, and then diarrhea.
Fox said the rash was pretty much only on their legs, so she began to wonder if it had to do with lake water lapping along the shore the day before. She started looking online and found that Blue Marsh had issued a harmful algal bloom advisory on July 21, but said she hadn’t seen any information about it.
Harmful algal blooms, or HABs, occur every year in the 1,150-acre lake which is found primarily in Bern and Lower Heidelberg townships, with portions reaching into North Heidelberg and Penn townships. The HABs are the result of agricultural use in the watershed and runoff, according to the Philadelphia District Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the lake and 6,100-acre park.
Flowers tend to peak when heat waves occur. The most common cause is natural cyanobacterium which reproduces rapidly in nutrient-rich water and produces cyanotoxins, which can make people and animals sick.
Fox decided to take her children to Patient First Primary and Urgent Care in Wyomissing, but found that her insurance was not accepted there. She said the nurse told her she thought the children really should be seen somewhere.
Fox made an appointment with her children’s pediatrician in Wyomissing for the next day.
“The pediatrician didn’t know what it was,” she said. “Then I started developing rashes and a fever, I went to urgent care and they didn’t know what it was either, so they said they were going to call infectious disease. “
Fox said staff at Tower Health Urgent Care Wyomissing and her children’s pediatrician consulted.
“They even tested my kids for monkeypox,” Fox said. “That’s how unsure they were.”
Her children were given antibiotics, and that seemed to help, she says.
“The pediatrician, the emergency care person and the infectious disease person all said the same thing, that it was from a toxin released by the blue-green algae,” Fox said.
Fox said her children’s pediatrician called her back for more information after bringing in more patients with the same symptoms. She said the pediatrician wouldn’t make a statement to the reading eagle.
Jessica Bezler, public relations manager at Tower Health, said her team was not aware of any patients with a similar condition. She did not respond when presented with information about Fox’s visit.
“Nursing staff at our center in Wyomissing do not recall treating any other similar cases in the past few weeks,” said Todd Krickler, community relations manager for Patient First.
St. Luke’s, which operates a walk-in care center in Hamburg, did not respond to a request asking if it had treated patients with apparent cyanobacteria infection.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health did not respond in a timely manner to a request for reports of a potentially harmful algal bloom in Berks County. The US Centers for Disease Control said they don’t have short-term data, such as the past 30 days. It collects data annually from the states. The latest data reviewed and published is from 2019.
Blue Marsh had raised the harmful algal bloom alert to a notice on July 21. The state Department of Health has a HAB dashboard on its website, but it showed no data for samples from Blue Marsh Lake in the past month.
“We have not received any direct reports from any medical office, state or other agency of any report of illness after recreating at the lake,” natural resources specialist and ranger Brianna Treichler said Friday. at Blue Marsh.
She said Blue Marsh officials do not view comments on social media posts as a direct report.
“When we see indicators of harmful algal blooms – those large scum-like layers, which are considered an indicator of a harmful algal bloom, we will draw tests from that. We also performed other tests internally,” Treichler said. “And all of our results have come back to where they don’t warrant any further action beyond issuing an advisory and notifying the public.
“It’s this time of year that we may see it, and it’s possible there’s harmful algae and the toxins associated with it.”
She said there were also tests for E. coli carried out at the Dry Brooks Day Use Area swimming beach twice a week.
“We would be the first to close our bathing beach if it came down to something where it would be dangerous or harmful to the public,” Treichler said. “All of these levels have been well within the norm.”
Blue Marsh posts information about the algal bloom on all of its bulletin boards throughout the park, on social media and on its website and sends out press releases, Treichler said.
When in doubt, stay away is the best advice Blue Marsh offers, she said. If people come in contact with what appears to be algae, she said they should rinse with fresh water as soon as possible.
Fox and her kids were better last week, but she said their stomachs still haven’t settled. She posted her experience on Facebook on July 30, and it has been shared more than 3,500 times.
“I wanted to warn the other families that were going there,” Fox said.
More information on harmful algal blooms is available at https://www.dep.pa.gov/Business/Water/HABs and https://www.cdc.gov/habs/illness-symptoms-freshwater. html. Health-related questions about HABs can be emailed to [email protected]
How to report an illness
If anyone becomes ill after coming into contact with Blue Marsh Lake water, call the office at 610-376-6337 and leave a message with information about the incident and how to contact the person making the report.
Email can also be sent via the website: https://bit.ly/BlueMarshRec, but Brianna Treichler, Ranger and Natural Resources Specialist, said leaving a phone message would be best.