Texas Gulf Coast beach bacteria: What you need to know

GALVESTON, Texas -- The Galveston County Health District (GCHD) participates in a federal program that tests hundreds of recreational swimming sites in the United States. The program, known locally as Texas Beach Watch, tests for a bacterial indicator called Enterococcus. The bacteria is common in rain runoff and levels often spike after periods of heavy rain. GCHD routinely tests 52 beach sites through the program.

When a sample shows the level of Enterococcus above the EPA standard for safe swimming, an advisory is issued for the beach corresponding to that testing site. Sites with elevated levels are tested daily until the level comes down, which typically takes approximately 48 hours. Galveston County advisories are indicated with a sign on the beach and online at TexasBeachWatch.com and www.gchd.org.

When an advisory is issued, the affected beach is not closed. An advisory is issued to inform the public of the elevated bacteria level so people can make an informed choice about swimming in the affected waters.

People with diabetes, liver disease, cancer or other immune-suppressing conditions who swim in natural bodies of water with open cuts or sores are at an increased risk for infection. Healthy people are much less likely to get an infection than the ill.

Swimming in natural bodies of water anywhere comes with risk. To reduce it, beachgoers with open cuts or sores, especially those with pre-existing conditions, should avoid swimming or check with their doctor first.

People who suffer cuts while in natural bodies of water anywhere should immediately leave the water, thoroughly clean the wound and do not return until the wound heals. It's important to keep an eye on the area for infection or swelling. If either occur, medical attention should be obtained immediately.

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