Kinneret allergy afflicting water-sport enthusiasts at Sea of Galilee

Spray getting into vacationers’ eyes & lungs at Lake Kinneret is making them ill, then disappears after 2-3 days.



Vacationers and water-sport enthusiasts at Lake Kinneret have been complaining of rashes, sneezing, tearing eyes and breathing difficulties. The phenomenon even has its own name: Kinneret allergy.

People at Lake Kinneret on the first day of Sukkot.

People at Lake Kinneret last September, on the first day of Sukkot. . Watch out for the spray.- Photo: GIl Eliyahu

Most complaints have come from windsurfers and kitesurfers who get water sprayed in their eyes and lungs. The increase in cases in recent years has made scientists wonder if changes in the lake over the past two decades are responsible.

The phenomenon is discussed in an article by Dr. Assaf Sukenik of the Kinneret Limnological Laboratory and Dr. Ronit Confino-Cohen, an allergy and epidemiology specialist at Kfar Sava’s Meir Hospital. They note the presence of phytoplankton species that are new to the lake. Some of these species manufacture toxins.

Sukenik and Confino-Cohen, who published their article in the Hebrew-language journal Eretz Kinneret, say these toxic organisms, called cyanobacteria, could be responsible.

Sukenik and Confino-Cohen recently completed a survey to try to prove a link between the allergic symptoms and proteins in plankton. Dozens of people who reported symptoms, particularly windsurfers, took part.

In the study, proteins were isolated from plankton and used to test for an allergic reaction by scratching a subject’s inner forearm and placing drops of a protein there. Some of the subjects proved sensitive to cyanobacteria proteins.

According to Sukenik, there is no clear proof that the sensitivity was due to the cyanobacteria. “But there’s quite a bit of work in the literature showing that there are allergens in the cyanobacteria,” he said. “And elsewhere around the world where extensive epidemiological studies have been carried out, rashes have been linked to cyanobacteria.”

Fishermen have also been complaining of itching and redness. Unlike the windsurfers, fishermen aren’t exposed to the spray that penetrates lungs, so their allergic reactions have been different.

None of the reactions reported so far have developed into a serious condition. Instead, the symptoms of unpleasant sensations, headaches and fatigue disappear in two or three days.

According to Sukenik, few people are aware of the phenomenon, so few people report it. People who do report it don’t always link it to their activities at the lake, and even if they do, the information isn’t passed on to an agency that can collate the information.


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