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Dangerous Bacteria Found in Zion National Park’s Virgin River

The parks service issued a warning this week telling visitors that a toxic bacteria was found in the Virgin River inside Zion National Park. According to the announcement, cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins were found in water flowing from the river and into most areas of the park. 

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Officials warned that you should “not submerge your head in or filter drinking water from still or moving water” inside the park. They added that you shouldn’t even boil the water and then try to drink it. Instead, you should bring your own water or filter it from a spring. 

The Centers for Disease Control explains that cyanotoxins can get both humans and animals sick if they drink contaminated water, eat contaminated food, or if the bacteria comes in direct contact with their skin or eyes. 

The symptoms of a cyanobacteria infection. Graph by NPS

According to the CDC, the bacteria can cause stomach pain, headache, neurological symptoms, vomiting, diarrhea, and liver and kidney damage. However, researchers are still studying the bacteria, so long-term health effects are unclear. 

While cyanobacteria live naturally in waterbodies, it only becomes a risk when it grows in large amounts. And, according to Zion Park officials, it’s had the opportunity to grow because of the lack of flooding events. Like many areas, Zion has been subjected to excessive heat and drought. 

It’s unclear how many people have been infected or exposed to the bacteria, but officials say if you have been, you should seek immediate medical attention or contact the Utah Poison Control Center.  

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