For The Love of Swimming

It might be more timely to air a story about a new test to check for contaminated beach water in the spring. After all, that’s when North Carolinians are starting to think about warmer weather and visiting the state’s incredible coastline.

But we wanted to air it now because, tragically, deadly ocean water has been in the news, most recently in Florida.

Patty Konietzkey and her husband, Henry "Butch," went crabbing in the Halifax River near Ormond Beach in September. Butch developed a sore on his ankle. It was later confirmed to be vibrio vulnificus. The bacteria spread quickly in his body and he died 60 hours later.

Vibrio vulnificus is a strain of bacteria that thrives in warm saltwater, and the Florida Department of Health reports 32 people have contracted the bacteria. Ten people have died from the strain. The deadly bacteria can also be contracted from eating raw seafood.

Florida health officials are monitoring the situation and so far they do not consider it severe. They are also warning anyone with a compromised immune system or an open cut not to go into the water.

Dr. Rachel Noble's Rapid Water Test“It’s definitely something to take seriously but there are a number of other bacteria that you could run into,” said Tim O’Connor, spokesman for the state health department.

That’s what makes Dr. Rachel Noble’s test so important. While states, counties and municipalities routinely test the water at beaches, it takes awhile to get results. Dr. Noble’s test reduces the amount of time it takes to get results.

But the reality is that even a faster test isn’t full proof. There is a lot of water at a beach and bacteria are microscopic. There’s no need to stop swimming in lakes, rivers and oceans, but the Florida Department of Health and Dr. Noble both say there are some common sense things to do to be safe.

  • Try not to get water in your mouth when you’re swimming and don’t open your eyes underwater
  • Take a shower when you are finished swimming and immediately clean and treat any cut you may have gotten in the water (for example, scraping your foot on a rock or shell)
  • Don’t go swimming if you have an open wound or cut
  • Don’t swim near storm drain pipes or areas where there is pooled water from the land coming into the ocean
  • See your doctor if you’ve got signs of an infection, such as a spot that feels soft, red, warm and swollen. If you’re uncertain about it, or any other potential symptoms that worry you, call your doctor

- Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!

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