Monitoring bacteria along Texas beaches

While Texas beaches continue to draw plenty of people for some socially distant fun during this pandemic, it’s important to know what you might be swimming in.

While most bacteria found in Gulf waters is not harmful to humans, there are still a couple of types of bacteria to look out for if you do plan to hit the beach.

“Our skin is a natural barrier to a lot of {bacteria},” says Dr. John Griffin, Dermatologist with the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. “So the times that we can get into trouble are if there’s problems with that barrier; if there’s problems with the host organism, which in this case is the human; so if you’re immune system isn’t working well for example, or if the dose of the bacteria is higher than normal.”

One of the most common types of bacteria is called enterococcus (fecal) bacteria. According to Dr. Griffin, oftentimes higher doses of enterococcus bacteria might be found after rain events. On a daily basis, levels of this type of bacteria are measured. If the levels get to high, an alert will be issued. For example, the Galveston County Health District will send an email or text message to inform you on those days. You can sign up for these alerts by CLICKING HERE.

The other type of bacteria that could be dangerous to humans is vibrio vulnificus, also known as vibrio.
“That’s one that’s generally found in salty or brackish, kind of stale, salty water and can cause severe infections,” cautions Dr. Griffin.

Levels of vibrio bacteria are not monitored by local beach authorities, but Dr. Griffin advises people to use caution when swimming in bodies of water where algae blooms are more prevalent and/or the water is not moving. Dr. Griffin says stagnant water leads to bacteria growth.

In addition to alerts sent to your phone through the GCHD, you can also receive alerts on other Texas beaches and their bacteria levels by CLICKING HERE.

Dr. Griffin says if you have an open wounds, try covering them with a waterproof bandaid before getting in the water. He also suggests to wear swimming shoes so your feet run a lower risk of getting cut.

If you do notice a cut, make sure to keep it clean with soap and water and use a topical ointment if necessary. Some cuts might begin getting infected and in this case, especially if you start running a fever and have chills, Dr. Griffin says to go see your doctor. While severe infections from bacteria in the water are rare, they are possible.