Contact(s): Gina LaLiberte, DNR statewide blue-green algae coordinator Gina.LaLiberte@wisconsin.gov; 608-221-5377 OR, the Department of Health Services Media Line, 608-266-1683.
MADISON -- Heavy rains and high temperature are fueling the growth of blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, in water bodies around the state, so the Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources and Health Services are teaming up to present an informational webinar about the health risks of blue-green algae. Some blue-green algae can cause illnesses for people and animals who accidentally ingest or inhale it, or have prolonged skin contact with the algae.
The webinar will take place July 16 at noon. Participants can log on to learn more about blue-green algae and its health effects, how to differentiate blue-green algae from other algae, and ways to stay safe this summer when spending time on the water. People may participate through the DNR media website.
"Blue-green algae are in all lakes and rivers in Wisconsin, but they only become a problem when they grow to high concentrations, called blooms, on some water bodies," said Gina LaLiberte, DNR's statewide blue-green algae coordinator. "Actively growing blooms are usually green and have a 'pea soup' appearance, but blooms may also appear as blue, white, red, or brown scums that may be foamy or in mats."
While not all blue-green algae produce toxins, the presence of blue-green algae blooms in lakes, ponds or rivers may indicate a potential health hazard, LaLiberte said.
"One easy way to identify potential risk from blue-green algae is that if adults are in knee-deep water and can see their feet clearly, the risk of acute illness is low to moderate for adults, but it's still a good idea to choose the clearest water possible for small children and dogs, and to avoid swallowing water that could contain other bacteria, viruses, and parasites," LaLiberte said. "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."
Public health officials encourage people to avoid swallowing any water and 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 a blue-green algae bloom.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Division of Public Health, common symptoms of exposure to toxic blue-green algae blooms include rashes, gastrointestinal ailments and respiratory irritation. 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.
Animals have a higher risk of dying after exposure to blue-green algal 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.
People are also encouraged to report potential algae-related illnesses in both people and animals to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services by filling out the Harmful Algae Bloom Illness or Sighting Survey (exit DNR) or by calling 608-266-1120.
To help track the occurrence of blooms around the state, blooms may be reported to the DNR at DNRHABS@wisconsin.gov. Descriptions of bloom size, duration, location with lake, town, and county name, and photos for verification are particularly helpful.
Blooms tend to grow when there is a lot of sunlight, water temperatures are high, and there is little wind. In Wisconsin, blooms typically peak from July through September.