Georgia beach germ map: Stay ahead of infectious diseases this summer

Check out Coastal Resources Division’s live map to see which areas you might want to avoid

It started out as just another sunny day at the beach for Brent Norman, who was taking a stroll along South Carolina’s Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms a couple weeks ago.

“I’ve grown up on beaches all my life and stepped on probably over 10,000 shells,” he told local outlet ABC News 4. But this one was different.

Norman stepped on a shell during his walk and experienced significant pain in the days that followed.

“Fast forward to Wednesday, swelling on my right foot had grown even more. And then at that point, I was no longer walking,” he said. A trip to the emergency room revealed Norman was infected with vibrio, a potentially deadly flesh-eating bacteria.

Vibrio is naturally found in coastal waters, and it’s not the only microscopic health hazard that does. Beaches can be home to many germs, such as enterococci.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Resources Division tests the water at all Peach State beaches weekly for this pesky bacteria, which is found in the guts of warm-blooded animals ranging from birds to dolphins. Enterococci are not typically harmful to humans by themselves, according to the Environmental Protection Agency but there is still an important reason Georgia’s Beach Water Quality Monitoring and Notification Program tests for it.

The bacteria is an indicator “of the presence of fecal material in water and, therefore, of the possible presence of disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and protozoa,” the EPA reported. And being exposed to these germs can lead to infections.

“Germs found in the water and sand often come from human or animal feces (poop),” the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. “One way germs can be carried into swim areas is by heavy rain, which can carry whatever it comes in contact with (for example, poop from animals) into swim areas. These germs can also come from humans or animals pooping in or near the water.

“Water contaminated with these germs can make you sick if you swallow it. It can also cause an infection if you get into the water with an open cut or wound (especially from a surgery or piercing).”

According to Gizmodo, MRSA bacteria that cause staph infections, E. coli that cause urinary tract and gastrointestinal infections, parasitic hookworms, a bacteria that causes Legionaries’ disease, diarrhea-causing parasites and norovirus (stomach bug) can all be found at the beach.

Beachgoers looking to avoid these pesky germs should watch the weather.

“Our data has shown that elevated bacteria levels are frequently associated with specific weather events, especially heavy rains and strong winds,” the Coastal Resources Division reported. “Significant levels of rainfall increases runoff from surrounding uplands and may contribute to elevated bacteria levels in adjacent waters. Similarly, high winds along with heavy surf conditions will often resuspend sediment loads in the water column and may increase bacteria levels.”

Want to know the current status of Georgia’s beach bacteria levels to stay ahead of these infectious diseases? Check out the Coastal Resources Division’s official map here.

“In summary, beachgoers and especially swimmers should always consider the past 24-48 hour weather conditions from the local area along with the posted advisory status when making plans on enjoying any of Georgia’s beautiful beaches,” the division said.