Nightmare situations for pet owners in North Carolina and Georgia after encountering a toxic blue-green algae bloom have sparked concerns of the same right here at home.
Social media has been inundated in previous days of the tales of a handful of dogs coming into contact with the blue-green algae while swimming in lakes and ponds and later succumbing to the exposure.
One North Carolina pet owner lost her three west highland white terriers after they swam in a pond. The dogs began seizing when they returned home and were taken to a veterinarian for treatment. They died less than a day later.
A woman in Georgia lost her dog, a border collie, after the dog swam in Lake Allatoona in northwestern Georgia.
And officials with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources say toxic blue-green algae is often found here as well; in fact, it's tested for, and often detected, at most state park lakes every year.
“It's something we deal with every summer,” said Tara Wolfe, the communications director for DNR. “It's just getting more media attention now because of the very sad situations in (North Carolina and Georgia).”
To help residents here better understand the risks, DNR officials have uploaded information about the toxic blue-green algae to the department's Facebook page as well as a video explaining what it is, how to recognize it and the different advisory levels issued if it's found in a state park lake or reservoir.
The algae is actually quite common and not necessarily harmful, but under certain conditions — like rising temperatures and still water — the cells begin to reproduce in large numbers resulting in a harmful algal bloom.
DNR officials test many of its beaches — areas where people often swim in the warm months — beginning in June and post signs if it's detected.
There are four warning levels: low-risk, advisory, caution and closed.
Several Indiana lakes in state parks, including Patoka Lake, have been posted as either low-risk or advisory, the two lowest levels; other lakes are Brookville Lake, Cagles Mill Lake, Cecil M. Harden Lake, Hardy Lake, Mississinewa Lake, Lake Monroe, Kunkel Lake, Ouabache State Park, and Potato Creek.
No state park lakes or reservoirs are currently closed due to the algae nor are any posted with the more serious warning, and Wolfe said there have been no reported incidents resulting from the blue-green algae in Indiana state parks so far this summer.
Beginning at the posted advisory level, people are encouraged to avoid contact with the water altogether. If they do swim, they should avoid swallowing the water. Pets are discouraging from entering the water altogether or drinking at its edge.
If you or pets do enter the water at the advisory level, you are encouraged to wash with warm soapy water immediately following the swim, Wolfe said.
Exposure of the blue-green algae to humans can result in rashes, skin and eye irritations ad even upset stomach if ingested.
For dogs, the harmful toxins, if ingested, stop the liver from functioning properly and can, in extreme cases, result in death, as was the case in North Carolina and Georgia.
According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, as the planet warms, such algae blooms are becoming more and more frequent, leading to greater chance for human and animal exposure. They're also becoming more frequent in northern states, leaving their oft more southern boundary behind.
In 2011, for instance, a toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie grew so large over the course of four days that it could be seen from space, the report said.
Wolfe said the algae is often visible on the surface of the water. Blooms can look like a “film or crust.”
“It may also look like grass clippings or dots in the water, even spilled paint,” Wolfe said. “It can look like green cottage cheese curds.
“So it can really look like a lot of things.”
Bodies of water located in state parks, Wolfe said, will be posted appropriately in the event that a toxic algae bloom is found, so visitors need to be vigilant of signs.
When swimming in private ponds or lakes, look at the water carefully, especially the water's edge, and make sure the color is normal.”
For a full listing of which Indiana lakes are under an advisory level, visit www.in.gov/dnr/. Visitors can find the “Property Advisories” under the State Parks link.
More information on blue-green algae is available at the DNR website as well.