vibrio

A recent study found a deadly "flesh-eating bacteria" is being found more commonly in the Delaware Bay.

Five cases of Vibrio vulnificus were linked to the Delaware Bay, a rise the Annals of Internal Medicine study attributed to climate change. Previously, the bacteria was found more often in warmer waters along the Gulf Coast.

"As you get warmer air temperatures, you get warmer water temperatures, and it's not just species of bacteria that show up, it's species of a lot of other animals like fish and vertebrates and algae, so it makes sense that this would be happening," said Chris Bason, executive director of the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays.

But Bason said Delawareans and visitors shouldn't be worried about swimming in the water. He cautioned, though, to get rid of the old adage mom taught you that salt water is good for wounds. He said wounds and bay water simply don't mix.

"If you have an open wound just don't go in the bay that day. And if you are in the bay, and you're enjoying yourself, and you do get a cut on something--like an oyster shell or a mussel, which does happen--take immediate precautions and clean out the cut with soap and water, and then don't get back in the bay. Then watch that cut, and if you see any signs of infection, go to your doctor right away, don't play around with it, don't wait to see if it gets better."

Bason said from a bacteria standpoint, water quality differs depending on location. He said extensive testing has shown fluctuating microbial quality, and cautioned against swimming in some areas of the inland bays.

"Those tend to be some of the tributaries of the inland bays, like some of the creeks...Herring Creek, parts of Indian River--they regularly have indicator bacteria that are over the safe swimming standard, and those are the areas where you've really got to watch out for swimming in them."

The testing, Bason said, looks for high levels of enterococcus--an indicator bacteria--that helps them create protective standards.  

"It's sort of a proxy for viruses and other harmful bacteria, and it's not like a one-to-one direct link that if you have high levels of enterococcus, you're going to have a high level of viruses or a high level of vibrio. It's kind of like something that is easily testable, and you kind of infer from there what might be in the water."

Bason said the tributaries tend to be in closer connection to sources of bacteria.

"Some of them [also] tend to be well-flushed with ocean water then some of the opens waters of the bay or the ocean themselves. The salinity being a little lower can increase different types of bacteria; we think most of the bacteria in our bays is from natural sources like wildlife and things living in the estuary. But some of the bacteria coming in can be from human sources, and there's some indications that that's the case in the inland bays."