Are you HAB-ready?

DHS Logo Original 07/11/2018

Harmful Algal Blooms

Newsletter header-May 2019

Preparing for Healthy and Safe Swimming Week and the 2019 HAB season

Kid with head peaking out of lake water

The week before Memorial Day, May 20–26, 2019, marks the 15th annual Healthy and Safe Swimming Week (HSSW). HSSW is a dedicated time for state and local health departments across the U.S. to engage the public, the media, beach managers, pool operators, and owners of residential pools and hot tubs to maximize the health benefits of water-based physical activity by minimizing the risk of waterborne illness and water-related injury.

In Wisconsin, the HAB season can begin as early as late May, coinciding with HSSW. The DPH HAB Program wants to help you prepare for effective messaging to the public about HABs and water safety, as well as provide you with the resources you’ll need to address blooms and related illnesses. Here are some FAQs and quick links to resources to help you prepare for HSSW and the 2019 HABs season:


What if I receive a report of a blue-green algae bloom?
If you receive a report of a bloom without an accompanying illness, report the bloom to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) at Include descriptions of bloom size, duration, and location with lake, town, and county name, as well as any photos taken both close-up and farther away. The DNR is unable to sample and test in response to each bloom report, but may be able to confirm whether cyanobacteria are present from submitted photos. Please note that this email address is monitored during normal business hours, so responses to reports received outside business hours may be delayed.

What if I receive a report of a human illness suspected of being related to blue-green algae?
Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) and cyanotoxin poisoning is now a Category II reportable condition in Wisconsin. Cases must be reported to the local public health department or tribal health center of the jurisdiction where the ill person resides within 72 hours of case recognition. Local health departments should report the suspect case to WEDSS as soon as possible and reference the Case Reporting and Investigation Protocol for guidance. Due to the complexity of case investigation and risk assessment, the DPH HAB Program will work with local health and tribal agencies on case investigations. The HAB Program has been investigating suspect cases of HAB-related illness for 10 years and will continue to offer technical assistance, including possible water sampling, to local health and tribal agencies during case investigations.

What if I receive a report of an animal illness suspected of being related to blue-green algae?
Report the suspect case to the DPH HAB Program. The HAB Program will work with the local health agency to investigate the illness. Animal illnesses suspected of being due to blue-green algae are important to report because they may serve as sentinels for human illness.

Who has the authority to close a public beach or swim area due to a human health hazard (e.g., blue-green algae), and when can they do it?
Per Wis. Stat. § 254.46, “the local health officer…shall close or restrict swimming, diving and recreational bathing if a human health hazard exists in any area used for these purposes on a body of water and on associated land in their jurisdiction and shall require posting of the area”. Local health departments and tribal agencies have primary authority for issuing health advisories, beach or water body closures, and public messaging. An exception exists for state parks and Great Lakes beaches; at many of these locations, the DNR will post signage and close public beaches.

Local health and tribal authorities can issue a health advisory and close a public beach due to blue-green algae when testing OR visual observation suggests a high probability of adverse human health effects (>100,000 cells/mL cyanobacterial cell density, elevated cyanotoxin concentrations, OR a visible cyanobacteria scum layer is present).

Quick Links

HAB Program Success Story: "Blooms and the Big Lake" Workshop

Last August, Lake Superior, near the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, was impacted by a widespread cyanobacterial bloom that drew significant media attention. To address regional preparedness for blooms in Western Lake Superior, on April 29, the DPH HAB Program teamed up with the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve to offer a one-day workshop at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland. Attendees included those in roles related to bloom event education, communication, research, and response.

The event drew 40 professionals from diverse fields, including state and local public health, natural and/or water resources management, academic and not-for-profit research, outdoor education and outreach, recreation management, and land use management. Workshop sessions focused on an introduction to blue-green algae, regional research and monitoring related to cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins, statewide efforts to address Great Lakes beach health, and the public health approach to addressing HAB-related illnesses in Wisconsin.

At the end of the day, attendees put their knowledge and diverse skill sets together during a scenario-based group activity related to HAB response. Evaluations overall demonstrated that attendees felt the workshop was a good use of their time.

Highlighted workshop evaluation comments:

“I learned so much during this workshop! The agenda was great with informative presentations and helpful discussion.”

Great opportunity to connect with others and bring together interested parties to talk about goals.”

“I learned about several partnerships and resources that I could use in the future.”

“I plan to be able to better and more fully answer questions that come in to the health department regarding blue-green algae. I also feel better able to recognize these issues and respond to them.”

Attendees watch presentation on HABs

Attendees of "Blooms and the Big Lake," a Lake Superior HABs workshop.

Attendee looks at display at HABs meeting

Gina LaLiberte (left), blue-green algae coordinator at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, leads a hands-on “algae zoo” during the workshop’s noontime break.

Attendees select dot to describe their role in HABs

Workshop attendees included those in a variety of professional roles.

Social media bubble with heart

Let's Get Social!

This issue's sample post:

Happy Healthy and Safe Swimming Week! Did you know the season for cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms in Wisconsin usually begins in May? Warmer temperatures help cyanobacteria grow and form blooms. Remember to keep yourself and your pets out of discolored, scummy water and report blooms and related illnesses to your local health department! #HSSW2019

Stay in Touch

Icon array to demonstrate contacting us for more information

Missed a past issue? Previous issues are available on our Resources for Health Professionals webpage.

Email us your burning questions! If others can benefit from hearing the answer to your question, we’ll feature it in a future issue.

Remember that we are always available for consultation on any HAB health-related issue by email or phone (608-266-1120).