Five cases of flesh-eating bacteria infections have been found this year in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, prompting local organizations to test waters frequently and warn people of the dangers of water pollution.
"We're certainly monitoring for that (bacteria)," said South River Federation Executive Director Kate Fritz, an Anne Arundel organization. "I think, for the most part, we haven't seen any incredibly dangerous levels of bacteria."
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation on Friday reissued a 2009 report warning of an increase in vibrio bacteria infections in the bay and its tributaries. Vibrio is a salt water bacteria, some varieties of which can cause life-threatening skin and blood infections and intestinal illnesses.
A 66-year-old man nearly lost his leg last month after contracting an infection while swimming in the bay, according to media reports. Men from Washington, D.C., and Virginia also got infections.
Jeff Holland, river keeper for the West and Rhode rivers, said he has only seen three or four spikes in bacteria counts so far this summer. Those have been after heavy rains — which traditionally do increase the counts.
Still, reports of vibrio bacteria infections elsewhere have caused some concern, he said.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker said the recent health problems "signal the urgent need to continue reducing pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries."
The Foundation report, "Bad Water 2009: The Impact on Human Health in the Chesapeake Bay Region," documented an increase in the number of vibrio infections in the bay area, saying it may be an indirect result of warming water temperatures combined with pollution.
In Maryland, the number of vibrio cases reached 57 last year, a 10-year high, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The Calvert County Health Department says there have been five confirmed cases in the bay and its tributaries so far this summer.
Diana Muller, river keeper for the South River, said contact with the bacteria can be dangerous, but so can eating oysters and clams that have the bacteria in their systems. "It doesn't usually hurt them, but it could kill us," she said.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation says people who recreate in the bay or its tributaries can avoid health problems by:
• avoiding water contact if one has open sores
• avoiding swimming for 48 hours after a heavy rainstorm in the area
• avoiding blue-green algae growths in the water
• showering after swimming or boating
• checking government advisories for public beaches and fishing
• having drinking water tested in rural areas