Headed to the Water, Be on the Lookout for Blue-Green Algae

If you are heading out to lakes and rivers this summer, Lincoln County Health Department reminds you to be on the lookout for blue-green algae blooms. Some blue-green algae make toxins that can make people and animals sick, by accidentally swallowing or inhaling the water, or having skin contact with it.

Many people refer to blue-green algae as “pond scum”. They are most often blue-green in color, but can also be blue, green, reddish-purple, or brown. Blue – green algae normally grow in lakes, ponds, and slow-moving streams when the water is warm and enriched with nutrients.

The extra rainfall this spring and summer added to the growth of blue-green algae by carrying nutrients from surrounding areas to the water. Nutrients can be carried into water bodies in many ways including, farming, sewage, and the use of some fertilizers and detergents.

Exposure to algae blooms may cause you to have the following symptoms: sore throat, runny nose, cough, wheezing, difficulty breathing, itchy eyes, itchy skin, red skin, hives, earache, headache, stomach pain, loose stools, and vomiting. Since it is very difficult to tell whether algae blooms are toxic without lab analysis of the water; the safest thing to do is to treat every algae bloom as if it could be dangerous.

Animals can also become ill from blue-green algae blooms. Animals that have been exposed may show the following symptoms: sleepiness, difficulty breathing, loose stools, seizures, weakness and vomiting. To protect pets from algae blooms do not let animals drink lake water during algae blooms. Keep animals out of water where you see foam, scum or mats of algae; and rinse animals off right away if they are exposed to algae. Do not let them lick the algae from their fur.

If you think you are experiencing symptoms related to exposure to blue-green algae (e.g., stomach cramps, loose stools, vomiting, headache, fever, muscle weakness, trouble breathing), contact your doctor or the Poison Information Hotline (800-222-1222) right away.

If your pet displays symptoms such as seizures, vomiting, or loose stools after contact with surface water, contact your veterinarian right away.

For more information regarding blue-green algae contact Meghan Williams, Lincoln County Health Department, at 715-536-0307 or visit the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website: http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/eh/bluegreenalgae/resourceslinks.htm or the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s website: http://dnr.wi.gov/lakes/bluegreenalgae/.

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