The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Public Health are reminding residents to exercise caution if they plan activities on Illinois waterways, including lakes, rivers, streams and ponds.

During summer months, water conditions are ideal for blue-green algae growth, also known as cyanobacteria, which are microscopic organisms that naturally occur in lakes and streams.

Rapid growth of algae is referred to as a "bloom." While most blue-green algae are a natural part of the ecosystems and are harmless, some can produce toxic chemicals that cause sickness or other health effects in people and pets, depending on the amount and type of exposure.

National news reports are stressing the dangers of algae toxin exposure following reports of illnesses and dog deaths after contact with blue-green algae blooms.

Each year, Illinois officials work to raise awareness of the dangers of harmful algae blooms through an annual news release and information made available online.

Residents are reminded to use caution when recreating on Illinois waterways, especially at this time of year when blue-green algae blooms are most prevalent.

When a blue-green algae bloom has been confirmed, local officials are advised to post appropriate signage to warn residents to avoid contact with affected waters; however, not all blooms are reported to state officials. Therefore, residents must be aware and avoid contact with suspicious looking water.

People who plan to recreate in or on Illinois waters this summer are advised to avoid contact with water that:

• looks like spilled green or blue-green paint;

• has surface scums, mats, or films;

• is discolored or has green-colored streaks; or

• has greenish globs suspended in the water below the surface.

People are also advised to keep children and pets out of the water. Do not allow pets to drink from the water and do not allow them to lick their fur after swimming in water containing a blue-green algae bloom.

If an individual or a pet has been in contact with water, which may have blue-green algae bloom, rinse off with clean, fresh water as soon as possible.

Sensitive individuals, including young children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are most at risk to adverse health effects attributable to algae toxins.

Individuals are most often exposed to algae toxins while swimming or participating in other recreational activities in and on the water.

The most common routes of exposure are direct skin contact, accidental ingestion of contaminated water or accidental inhalation of water droplets in the air.

Symptoms of exposure to algae toxins include rashes, hives, diarrhea, vomiting, coughing or wheezing. More severe symptoms may result from longer or greater amounts of exposure.

Activities near but not in or on a lake or river, such as camping, picnicking, biking and hiking, are not affected.

For additional information, contact any health care provider or call the Illinois Poison Center at 800-222-1222. If a pet experiences symptoms that may be a result of exposure, contact any local veterinarian.

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