Are SWLA's beaches safe this July 4th?

Are SWLA's beaches safe this July 4th?

Flesh-eating bacteria in South Louisiana waterways have killed one person and sickened three others, including someone in the Lake Area. Find out how it is contracted and what you need to do if your 4th of July plans involve local waterways.

You will not see any beach advisory signs warning about "vibrio vulnificus," a bacteria lurking in brackish and salt water.

"We can't say it's just in one particular location, because it's always in these waterways," said Dr. B.J. Foch, the medical director of the Office of Public Health Region V. "That's why people have to treat it like whatever type of open sea water and warm sea water they get in can have this type of bacteria."

Foch said this bacteria is found in all waterways, but is typically only a threat to a certain population.

"The elderly, people with a weakened immune system, children, people with chronic illnesses are more likely to suffer infections," he said.

People with open wounds exposed to the bacteria-laden water are the most at risk, with even a small cut.

"The bacteria getting into wounds on the skin and it also can be ingested, as well," said Foch.

This type of bacteria is not the result of any spills or environmental problems. It is naturally occurring and when the temperatures rise, so does the temperature of the water, creating more bacterial growth.

"Our waterways do have microorganisms in them and people have to be careful, especially for those that have a weakened immune system," said Foch.

Lake Charles Memorial Hospital family medicine physician Dr. Abhishek Agarwal explains what to look for if you think you have been infected.

"Too much pain for the way the wound looks, then that's a clue, plus you want to look out for high fever with chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and changes in the skin," Agarwal said.

If your skin is healthy and you are not in an "at-risk" category, you can still enjoy South Louisiana's waterways, but beware that bacteria is always part of your swim.

The state epidemiologist said three of the four sickened people had breaks in their skin when they were exposed to vibrio vulnificus.

Twenty-five beach sites are tested each week by the Department of Health and Hospitals for bacteria connected to human and animal waste. Click here to check those results.

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