Mysterious elk deaths explained

New Picture (8)Cheyenne Bohlen (11 AM Micro) found this article via LiveScience about a mysterious outbreak. Here is Cheyenne’s summary:

An article I read over the weekend from Livescience may make you re-think jumping into that cool pond this summer. Just north of Las Vegas, New Mexico on August 27, 2013 a hunter stumbled upon something very strange. On the 700 plus acre ranch he found the remains of over 100 elk. What was even stranger to officials was that all the elk seem to have died within a 24 hour timespan. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish investigated the incident and came up with no explanation. However, they did rule out a few possibilities as to why so many elk died so quickly. They ruled out poachers, anthrax, lightning strikes, epizootic hemorrhagic disease (a virus known to effect deer), botulism, poisonous plants, and agricultural accidents. Further investigation showed no toxins in the stomachs of the elk and no toxic plants were found in the area. So what killed these elk? Conspiracies ran rampant as to why these elk mysteriously died. People started saying it was UFO’s or even el Chupacabra. Although we like to blame bizarre occurrences on urban legends the culprit was much smaller. Tissue tests from the elk and water samples from the surrounding area found the real killer was pond scum!

A type of blue-green algae that grows in ponds and other stagnant water sources produces a neurotoxin that if drank will cause death within minutes or just a few hours. Anabaena flos-aquae develops in warm, stagnant water and produces anatoxin A which blocks acetylcholine receptors in the muscles of animals. From A&P we all learned that blocking acetylcholine receptors prevents muscle stimulation. Respiratory failure will occur because the lungs will not be able to contract and the animal will unfortunately suffocate to death very quickly. This toxin is similar to the paralyzing toxin curare that was common on the poison-tipped arrows of South American tribes.

It is very important that people do not drink from stagnant water! Next time you plan on swimming in a pond or other stagnant water look for the presence of a blue-green algae on the top of the water and try not to swallow any water. A lot of people let their pets drink stagnant water but again you need to be on the lookout for this for their health as well. For farmers and ranchers it is recommended that water trove’s for animals be sanitized often to prevent the growth of this algae. This toxin can kill extremely quickly so it is important to keep you and your animals protected!

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About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on November 25, 2013, in Danger danger danger!, Guest Post. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Another way that anatoxin-A can be introduced besides drinking stagnant water is by taking dietary blue-green algae supplements. These supplements are used for different things such as weight loss, stress, ADHD, anxiety, and a few other issues. If you know of anyone taking these dietary supplements, some of the signs that they have been poisoned by this toxin are staggering, muscle fatigue and paralysis, gasping, and convulsions. If they do not receive medical treatment immediately, they will shortly die by respiratory arrest. I personally do not take dietary substances but I will definitely be telling people I know to make sure they are not taking a blue-green algae supplement. I will also be more aware when I am swimming in ponds and other stagnant water and I will make sure to not swim there if I see this blue-green algae.

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