(This post was edited at 9:30 p.m. after having received a call from the DHH explaining that I posted some misinformation. I suggest that you visit the link below, and read what they have to say and form your own conclusions as to whether or not you want to swim in any brackish waters any time this summer. Okay, read on.)
Really and truly, don’t go into the water without first checking the Department of Health and Hospitals advisory for the beach you intend to visit, as they test 25 spots at beaches across the coast for a couple of naturally-occurring bacteria: fecal coliform and enterococci. If high levels are detected, then an advisory is posted.
At the same time, though, the DHH mentions in their news release here, that four people contracted another bacteria, Vibrio Vulnificus, (which DHH does not test for), while swimming in coastal waters, and one of those victims has died. They don’t clarify when this was, whether current, in the past, cumulative or what. The fact that they mention it at all is a disturbing warning, at the least. The DHH release also states that if you are a healthy person with no open sores on your body, you should be fine taking a dip in coastal waters this summer.
I don’t have any plans to swim along the coast or in any of the nearby inland lakes, but maybe you do have that in mind. If you are immune compromised, elderly, have a compromised liver, or have open sores anywhere on your body, you might want to stay out of the waters in coastal Louisiana. While I’m not trying to be a killjoy, I did have my own battle with Vibrio Vulnificus last September, and it’s something I wouldn’t wish (well, maybe I would) on my worst enemy, because it is THAT BAD.
However, it might make you feel better to know that I was not swimming when my finger got infected. I was fishing in an inland brackish lake. Actually, I was cracking blue crab with my bare hands and putting it on the hooks of my fishing clients. Some said my talking about my experience on this blog would hurt my business, but as long as I am the only one touching the bait crabs and shrimp and the only one taking the fish off the hooks, then it really shouldn’t matter. I’m really more concerned about innocent victims, like myself, than I am about scaring away potential fishing clients. If you have the stomach for it, you can read the full account of my experience in this post from last year.
When folks describe this as flesh-eating, well, I don’t think they’re joking about that either. I could literally feel the bacteria eating away at the flesh under the skin on my finger, as the necrotic flesh turned dark purple. Don’t be fooled by the lack of fever, either, as I had no fever with this tyrant of a bacterial infection.
The pain was excruciating and was part of the reason I finally gave in and went to the Emergency Room after watching this thing spread for four days. Hard headed? Well, yes, I’ve been called that time or two.
All fun aside, this is nothing to play around with. Please check the bacteria counts at the DHH website for waters in your area before you expose yourself, kids, or grand kids to the warm Gulf-fed waters. Most of the time, levels are such that our bodies are not affected. But when levels are high, and you have a cut or wound, then conditions are prime for the nasty critters to set up housekeeping.
I just want you to have a very safe and happy 4th of July, but this year you might want to stick to the swimming pool and grilled burgers in the backyard!
Happy Independence Day, folks!