With summer swimming season in high gear, Vermont health officials want the public to know how to identify and avoid a cyanobacteria bloom, and what to do if people or pets come in contact with one.
The tiny microorganisms more commonly known as blue-green algae can harm humans and animals and in large numbers, can form blooms on the surfaces of ponds and lakes, and can wash up along shorelines.
Blooms are usually green or blue-green and can make the water look like pea soup or spilled paint, but can be other colors and consistency too.
In recent years, cyanobacteria blooms have occurred most often in northern sections of Lake Champlain, such as St. Albans Bay and Mississquoi Bay, as well as inland waters, most notably, Lake Carmi.
Swimming or wading in water with cyanobacteria may cause minor skin rashes, sore throats, diarrhea, stomach problems or more serious health problems. Children and pets are at higher risk of exposure because they are more likely to play near the shoreline where cyanobacteria accumulate, and drink water while swimming. Pets can also lick and swallow cyanobacteria that may be caught in their fur.
“The best way to protect yourself from exposure is to know what cyanobacteria look like, pay attention to posted signs at beaches, and stay out of the water when you think you see a bloom,” said Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.
If you come in contact with cyanobacteria, rinse off thoroughly as soon as possible. If you see cyanobacteria:
• Do not go into the water.
• Do not let pets or livestock swim in or drink the water.
• Obey posted signs at beaches.
• Report blooms to beach managers, town health officers or the health department (firstname.lastname@example.org).