Texas Beach Watch is part of a national program that tests hundreds of recreational swimming locations in the United States for a bacterial indicator called enterococcus. There are more than 150 testing sites along the entire Texas Gulf coast, including 52 in Galveston County. Of the testing sites in Galveston County, 36 are located on Galveston Island, 16 on Bolivar Peninsula and one on the Texas City Dike.
What is enterococcus and how does it get into the Gulf?
Enterococcus is a bacteria naturally found in the intestine and waste of all mammals, including humans. Rain frequently washes animal and human waste into waterways that eventually flow into the Gulf of Mexico, causing a brief spike in the enterococcus level.
When is a Texas Beach Watch advisory issued?
An advisory is issued when the level of enterococcus exceeds 104 cfu/100ml, the national standard for safe swimming. An advisory is an informational tool and does not close the affected beach. Advisories are issued for individual beach testing sites, meaning an individual advisory does not affect all area beaches. Texas Beach Watch advisories NOT related to Vibrio "flesh eating" bacteria.
How often are Galveston County sites tested?
The Galveston County Health District routinely tests the 52 sites in the county throughout the entire year. During beach season, each of Galveston County’s 52 testing sites are individually tested at least once a week. When a sample comes back with a high level of enterococcus, the site is tested daily until the level subsides, which typically occurs within 48 hours. During non-beach season, the sites are tested bi-weekly.
How long do Texas Beach Watch advisories last?
Advisories typically last 48 hours. When a site tests high, it’s re-sampled the following morning. That sample is then sent to the lab and the result comes in the following afternoon. This is why advisories typically only last 48 hours. It's rare for a site to have two consecutive high results.
How do I know if a beach is under a Texas Beach Watch advisory?
Advisories are marked with signs on the affected beaches. Additionally, www.texasbeachwatch.org has an interactive map that shows test site statuses for the entire state. Users may also sign up for e-mail alerts at that website. Galveston County advisories are also listed at www.gchd.org/beachwatch.
Should I swim at a beach that’s under Texas Beach Watch advisory?
If a beach is under advisory, the level of enterococcus is high enough where it could cause illness if it enters the body. Bacteria primarily enters the body through ingestion or open cuts or wounds. If you’re a healthy adult and don’t ingest beach water or allow it to get into open cuts or wounds, you’re unlikely to become ill. If you want to avoid an advisory, it’s often as simple as moving a few blocks to a beach that’s not under advisory.
What is Vibrio vulnificus “flesh-eating” bacteria?
Learn more about Vibrio vulnificus “flesh-eating” bacteria at this page.
About Vibrio vulnificus
Vibrio vulnificus is not associated with pollution and is not unique to the Gulf of Mexico, Texas or Galveston. The bacteria is naturally present in salt and brackish water around the world. Infections from Vibrio vulnificus are rare and typically affect people with pre-existing health conditions who had open cuts or sores when they came into contact with the bacteria.
More than 10 million people visited Texas beaches in 2015 and less than 0.00035% acquired Vibrio vulnificus. Most of those who get infections recover without long-term health consequences. By comparison, 100 times as many people were killed in vehicle crashes in Texas during the same year.
“The average person is far more likely to be killed in a car accident driving to a beach than they are to get an infection from the water,” said Dr. Philip Keiser, Galveston County Local Health Authority. “As with any activity that involves Mother Nature, there is always going to be risk and groups of people who are more vulnerable than others.”
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 Vibrio vulnificus. Healthy people are extraordinarily less likely to get an infection than the ill.
“Immune compromising conditions put people at a far greater risk of infection from any source,” Dr. Keiser continued. “So, it’s not surprising that cases of Vibrio vulnificus we’ve investigated at the Galveston County Health District involved such conditions.”
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. Vibrio vulnificus infections are treatable, especially if caught early. Wearing water shoes while swimming and gloves or waders while fishing can help prevent cuts.
Texas Beach Watch
Texas Beach Watch advisories are NOT for “flesh-eating bacteria,” rather Enterococcus, a bacteria commonly found in rainwater runoff. Advisories typically last 48 hours and can be avoided by moving a few blocks to a beach that’s not under advisory. Although infection from Enterococcus is also rare and often less serious than Vibrio vulnificus, the same risk factors apply and same precautions should be followed. Visit www.gchd.org/beachwatch for more information about Texas Beach Watch.
Research the Facts
GCHD encourages people to speak with their doctor or research facts online from sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Texas Department of State Health Services or www.gchd.org/beachwater.
“Vibrio vulnificus is one of many threats that deserve attention but not overreaction,” Dr. Keiser continued.
Is it safe to go to the beach?
Going to a beach is safe for the vast majority of people. As with any activity that involves Mother Nature, there is always going to be risk and groups of people who are more vulnerable than others. People should always take precautions in natural bodies of water, especially those with pre-exiting conditions or open cuts or sores.
People are much more likely to be killed in a car accident driving to a beach than they are to get an infection from the water.