The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is encouraging residents to use caution this summer when swimming in natural bodies of water.
Health officials said one resident has died and three others have become ill from infections they reportedly contracted after swimming in seawater along the Louisiana Gulf Coast. The victims are reportedly from the New Orleans, Houma, Baton Rouge and Lake Charles areas.
According to a news release from the department, in the four cases, swimmers' wounds were infected by Vibrio vulnificus. Officials said this is naturally-occurring bacteria found in warm seawater that is sometimes referred to as "flesh-eating bacteria."
"While Louisiana's Gulf waters, lakes and rivers may be tempting for folks trying to cool off during summer vacation, these illnesses serve as reminders to take precautions when swimming in any natural body of water," officials said in a release.
According to health officials, microscopic germs are found in all natural waterways and can pose serious health risks.
"DHH routinely tests beach water and posts advisories on 25 Louisiana beaches if bacteria levels become high," officials said.
Officials said DHH's Beach Monitoring Program monitors quality for coastal waters in conjunction with the Department of Environmental Quality, the Louisiana Office of State Parks, Cameron Parish Police Jury, the town of Grand Isle and the Lafourche Parish Police Jury between May 1 and Oct. 31.
The program reportedly tests water at 25 beach sites along the Louisiana coast to determine whether the water quality meets the federal Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act of 2000. The monitoring locations listed in the release include Cypremort Point, Fontainebleau and Grand Isle state parks, Fourchon, Holly Beach, Rutherford, Martin, Long Beach (Dung), Little Florida, Gulf Breeze, Grand Isle, Elmer's Island, Constance, North and South beaches.
DHH collects water samples weekly from beach sites and analyzes them to see if high levels of fecal coliform and enterococci bacteria are present.
Signs posted at the beaches change each week to reflect the current water quality status at that location.
Read some safe swimming tips HERE.