Health officials explain water advisory warnings

Health officials warning beach-goers of harmful bacteria

TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WTOC) - Update: The water advisory has been lifted. ->


It’s not hard to find people on Tybee Beach when the temperatures are in the 90s, and they’re not letting the health department’s warning of harmful bacteria ruin their swim.

Bacteria naturally thrives in warm temperatures, but it can test positive along our coast line year-round. It can cause sickness, with some of the symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and ear infections.

“I saw it on Facebook about not being in the water by the pier because of the different bacteria, but I’m not too worried about it because I’m not getting in the water," said Chantel Boswell, Tybee Island.

Others went headfirst into the waters. Some people say they didn’t know about the advisory or didn’t see the signage. The Coastal Health District tells WTOC it is just that: a warning.

“It’s not closed. People can still swim there if they want to, but we do advise that they do not swim or wade there, because the fact that there is a higher than usual amount of bacteria there means that there is an increase risk that a swimmer could get an infection," said Ginger Heidel, Risk Communicator, Coastal Health District.

The bacteria is called enterococcus. It was found in a weekly water testing sample on Tybee Island. The bacteria can come from animal waste, storm water runoff, or from boats.

“Just because you’ve been in the water doesn’t mean you are going to get an infection," said Robert Thornton, Jr., DPH, District Epidemiologist.

The advisory is for the Tybee Strand Beach at the Pier. That goes from 11th Street to 18th Street.

“It’s like going on a fishing trip. If you are fishing and you cast your line into a school of fish, you might catch a fish. You might fish a few feet away from that or a few yards from that, and you might not catch a fish at all.”

If you went swimming near there this week, the Coastal Health District says it’s okay, just be aware.

“Even though I’m not really big about getting into the water, I have children, so if I see signs like that, it makes me wonder for other times when I bring my kids and they haven’t tested the water; is something going on and we don’t know about it just yet?"

It’s protocol for the Department of Health to retest the water a day after a positive sample comes back. They retested Thursday morning and will have an update on Friday.

If you’re wondering how they know what section, water samples are taken from the center of each zone. If bacteria levels are above the recommended amount, the Health Department issues an advisory, and because they can’t determine exactly where the bacteria levels go from “okay” to “elevated," the advisory is issued for a large area.

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