With summer drawing to a close, you may want to make a few final trips to the beach for swimming. You should know that bacteria levels in beach water are monitored at 46 public beaches in Virginia on the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean during the swimming season (May-September).
Water samples are collected weekly by Local Health Departments and analyzed by local laboratories for enterococci bacteria. If bacteria levels exceed Virginia's Water Quality Standard of 104 colony forming units (cfu)/100 mL of water, a swimming advisory is issued. You can find out the status of your favorite beach spot by clicking on the Beach Advisory Map on the Virginia Department of Health website for current swimming advisories.
Enterococci bacteria serve as an indicator for fecal contamination in salt and brackish waters. These organisms are not harmful themselves, but indicate that other potentially harmful organisms may be present. High levels of enterococci bacteria indicate an increased health risk to recreational water users.
The most common recreational water illnesses are gastrointestinal and may cause vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain or fever. These illnesses result from swallowing water contaminated by disease-causing organisms. Contact with contaminated water can also cause upper respiratory (ear, nose and throat), and wound infections. Young children, the elderly, and those with a weakened immune system are particularly vulnerable to recreational water illnesses.
You can help to protect your health while swimming at the beach by taking these simple steps: