Aspirus nurse practitioner explains harmful algal bloom


HOUGHTON COUNTY, Mich. (WJMN) – The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department sent out an advisory this week of harmful algal bloom in Portage Lake, Portage Canal, and Torch Lake in Houghton County.

WUPHD says harmful algal bloom looks like spilled paint, pea soup, floating scum, mats, green sheens, clumps, or streaks in the water.

Shannon Handler, a nurse practitioner at Aspirus Lake Linden Clinic says this is new to their area but not in the U.S.

“On the skin, if you touch it, it’s an irritant,” Handler. “So it causes swelling, sores, like a rash. If you inhale it, there’s some case accounts of it causing a cough, shortness of breath and a fever. If it gets in the eyes, same type of thing as an irritant. So it can cause redness, tearing, burning sensation. Same thing for nose and throat. If you ingest it or swallow it, it can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea.”

Handler says some of these symptoms are the same as COVID-19.

“If you were in an area swimming or you knew this algal bloom happened, you would want to make sure that your health care provider knew that,” said Handler.

Handler says symptoms show up in half a day to two days after contact. Without treatment, it usually goes away in three to nine days. It could cause liver damage so she says they do monitor organs after.

“Algae isn’t necessarily the problem, it’s the toxin they produce,” said Handler.

Water is being tested and if there is cause for concern, the beach will be closed. But, if you come across it and looks murky and smells foul, Handler the best practice is to find somewhere else to swim.

“Just one of those moments where it’s not worth it,” said Handler. “Like go out to the big lake if you got the chance.”

More information on harmful algal blooms can be found at

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