Jefferson County issued a beach advisory Wednesday, Jan. 8, for the Sea Rim State Park – East Beaches of the county due to results of water samples collected during routine weekly testing performed Tuesday, Jan. 7, which exhibited elevated levels of the Enterococcus bacteria — a genus that includes 17 species, only a few of which cause clinical infections in humans.
“Our first priority right now is to let the public know that the water is not safe for normal recreational activities and to stay out of the beach until the advisory is lifted,” said Dr. Ashwini Kucknoor, director of the Texas General Land Office Beach Watch program for Jefferson County and professor of microbiology at Lamar University. “The problem is only with the city collection points right now, not McFaddin (Beach). We have to be careful that the public does not get the water into their system.”
Tests of water samples revealed elevated levels of Enterococcus above 104 colonies. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency uses these levels as indicators of the presence of fecal material in drinking and recreational waters, indicating the possible presence of disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and protozoans, EPA literature states.
“In terms of the indicator levels, this is a very big number for us,” Kucknoor said.
Kucknoor said that pathogens from Enterococcus could cause illnesses related to the gastrointestinal tract and may result in vomiting, diarrhea and infections of the nose and throat. Other notable clinical infections caused by Enterococcus include urinary tract infections, bacteremia, bacterial endocarditis, diverticulitis and meningitis.
Enterococci are recognized as a nantibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to the Medscape website, and are feared nosocomial pathogens that can be challenging to treat.
“We have to be careful of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but right now in the count that we are reporting, I cannot tell until we test for antibiotic resistance,” Kucknoor said. “We will go and sample again today (Jan. 8) and tomorrow (Jan. 9) and if the count remains the same, we would then have to send the samples for further analysis. We will have to do this until the counts come down.”
Kucknoor said that if the counts continue to rise, she would alert the GLO and EPA.
Pathogens caused by Enterococcus may pose health risks to people fishing and swimming in a water body. Sources of bacteria include improperly functioning wastewater treatment plants, leaking septic systems, storm water runoff, animal carcasses, and runoff from animal manure and manure storage areas, EPA literature states.
“The main cause I would suspect is that we had rains before it got cold a couple of days ago,” Kucknoor said. “The rainwater — when it runs down from the area surrounding the beach — probably could have taken with it the animal wastes or human wastes.”
Enterococci are part of the normal intestinal flora of humans and animals but are also important pathogens responsible for serious infections, according to the Medscape website.
Prolonged presence could cause the bacteria to become endemic to the area and could affect marine life, Kucknoor said.
“We will continue to stay on top of this and report our findings over the next couple of days to the County,” she said.