GALVESTON, Texas – Days after a Galveston beach visitor who swam with an open wound later lost part of his leg to flesh-eating bacteria, health officials are getting calls from people wondering if it’s safe to visit.
“That situation with Vibrio (the flesh-eating bacteria) is extraordinarily rare,” Scott Packard, spokesman for Galveston County’s Health District.
The island reported six million visitors last year. Eight people caught Vibrio, Packard said.
Still, visitors like Jonathan Cardenas hesitated to get into the water after seeing signs warning of bacteria near 45th and Seawall.
“I don’t really come to Galveston that much because of that, what’s in the water,” he said.
Orange, diamond-shaped signs currently warn beach-goers of bacteria in nine different spots along the seawall between 25th and 45th streets.
Officials said that is not unusual and has nothing to do with flesh-eating germs.
Instead, it is about Enterococcus or fecal matter, authorities said.
“Typically after periods of heavy rains or any recreational or coastal area, rain water will wash cattle waste, pet waste and some sewage overflows into the gulf through rivers and streams and that will make the levels spike for typically a day or so,” Packard said.
It is why health district employees collect water samples daily to check bacteria levels at 52 sites on the island, Bolivar Peninsula and the Texas City dike.
When officials notice spikes, they issue advisories using signs on the beach and interactive maps and alerts online.
“We were just in the water last weekend and we’re alive and well,” said Calvin Kuykendahl, who recently moved to Galveston.
Health officials insist only people with open wounds, primarily those with compromised immune systems, are vulnerable.
Those people usually get mild infections or stomach sickness, Packard said.
Still, authorities urge everyone to be cautious when you see water advisory warnings on the beach.