Those heading out to lakes are advised to be on the lookout for blue-green algae blooms beginning to form on lakes and ponds across the state. Reports show blooms are forming on southern lakes and will gradually appear northward as the summer months continue.
“Blue-green algae have ‘pea soup’ appearance in lakes and contain green, blue, white, red, or brown scums that may be foamy or in mats,” Gina LaLiberte, a research scientist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, says. “These blooms may cause illnesses for those who come in contact with them or accidentally ingest water containing algae.”
The most commonly reported symptoms of exposure to blue-green algae blooms include rashes, gastrointestinal ailments, and respiratory irritation, according to Mark Werner, a toxicologist with the Department of Health Services. People experiencing symptoms that may be due to blue-green algal exposure should contact their health care provider or the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
Public health officials encourage people to always wash off after swimming in any lake, pond or river. Dogs should always be rinsed off with clean water to remove algae from their coat. If people have any doubts about the appearance of water, they should stay out. They should ensure that children and pets do not swim in or drink water with an algae bloom.
“A good rule for identifying blue-green algae is that if adults are in knee-deep water and can see their feet, the risk from blue-green algae is low to moderate, but it’s still a good idea to avoid swallowing water,” LaLiberte says. “When you can’t see your feet, keep children and dogs out of the water, and consider having the whole family pursue another activity that day.”
People are also encouraged to help out by reporting potential algae-related illnesses in both people and animals to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services by filling out an electronic form (visit www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/eh/bluegreenalgae/) or calling 608-266-1120.
Animals have a higher risk of dying after exposure to blue-green algae toxins because they are smaller in size and may ingest large amounts of toxins from drinking lake, pond, or river water or licking algae from their coat. Symptoms in dogs can include lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea or even seizures. If your animal shows any of these symptoms contact your veterinarian immediately.
Blooms tend to grow when there is a lot of sunlight, water temperatures are high, and there is little wind, with the number of blooms peaking from July to September.
Some bloom-forming blue-green algae species produce toxins that can cause rashes or gastrointestinal illness with ingestion. If ingested in high levels the toxins can harm the neurological system, liver or kidneys of people, pets, livestock and wildlife. Not all cyanobacteria produce toxins, but the presence of blue-green algae blooms in lakes, ponds, or rivers serves as an indication the public can use to identify a potential health hazard, according to LaLiberte.
The DNR will be hosting an online blue-green algae chat July 1 at noon where participants can log on and ask a panel of experts questions on blue-green algae and ways to stay safe this summer when spending time on the water. Visit dnr.wi.gov and search keywords “ask the experts.”
More information is available by searching dnr.wi.gov for “blue-green algae.”