Beach Bacteria Levels Test HIGH in Galveston, La Porte & Corpus Christi

April 27, 2017 — Sylvan Beach South and Sylvan Beach North near La Porte have tested HIGH for fecal bacteria. If you are planning a beach trip this weekend, this is an issue to keep an eye on. Beach bacteria levels are a concern especially if you have diabetes, open sores (even as small as a hangnail), a weak or compromised immune system, young children, or are pregnant. It is wise to avoid any beaches that test high for fecal bacteria. The presence of such bacteria can be indicative of the presence of other hazardous bacteria such as the notorious “flesh eating” bacteria. In the past, infections from such bacteria have lead to hospitalization, amputation, and in rare cases even death.

Current beaches testing “Medium” high for fecal bacteria include:

  • Texas City Dike
  • Stewart Beach #2, Galveston
  • 7 Mile Road, Galveston
  • Quintana Beach
  • CR750
  • Sargent Beach & Sargent Beach West
  • Palacios Pavilion
  • North Beach, Gulfspray, Corpus Christi
  • McGee Beach #1, Corpus Christi
  • Cole Park #2, 3, & 4, Corpus Christi

We will continue to monitor beach bacteria test results as provided by the The Texas General Land Office. Check back soon for updates!

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended single sample maximum criterion for Enterococcus bacteria is 104 colony forming units (CFU) per 100 ml. When the counts are above this level, swimming is not recommended.

The Texas General Land Office measures bacteria counts and rates the beach advisory levels as follows:

Low Low
Bacteria counts less than 35 cfu/100 ml.

Medium Medium
Bacteria counts are between 35 and 104 cfu/100 ml.

High High
Bacteria counts are greater than 104 cfu/100 ml. An advisory for this beach is recommended.

The following information is provided courtesy of The Texas General Land Office:

Pathogens & Pathogen Indicators

The following information is provided so the general public can understand some of the risks associated with swimming in waters contaminated with fecal matter. This information is taken from Chapter 1 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Beach Guidance and Required Performance Criteria for Grants (EPA-823-B-02-004) document released in June 2002.

Indicator Organisms

Indicator organisms are a fundamental monitoring tool used to measure both changes in environmental (water) quality or conditions and the potential presence of hard-to-detect target pathogenic organisms. An indicator organism provides evidence of the presence or absence of a pathogenic organism that survives under similar physical, chemical, and nutrient conditions. Indicator organisms have the following characteristics:

  • Are easily detected using simple laboratory tests.
  • Generally not be present in unpolluted waters.
  • Appear in concentrations that can be correlated with the extent of contamination.
  • Have a die-off rate that is not faster than the die-off rate of the pathogens of concern.

Because it is difficult to directly detect the many different pathogens or parasites that may be present in surface waters, the presence of fecal bacteria has long been used as an indicator of the possible presence of disease-causing organisms. The bacterium used for the Texas Beach Watch Program and other coastal states is Enterococcus.

Pathogen Groups

Pathogens are defined as disease-causing microorganisms. Microorganisms are ever present in all terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Many types are beneficial, functioning as agents for chemical decomposition, food sources for larger animals, and essential components of the nitrogen cycle and other biogeochemical cycles. Some microorganisms reside in the bodies of animals and aid in the digestion of food; others are used for medical purposes such as providing antibiotics. The small subset of microorganisms that cause human diseases are known as human pathogens. If taken into the body, such pathogens can cause gastrointestinal illness or even death. The source of these microorganisms is usually the feces of humans and other warm-blooded animals. The pathogens most commonly identified and associated with waterborne diseases can be grouped into three general categories: bacteria, protozoans, and viruses.

Bacteria are unicellular organisms that lack an organized nucleus and contain no chlorophyll. They contain a single chromosome and typically reproduce by binary fission, during which a single cell divides to form two new cells. A primary source of concern to EPA is feces from warm-blooded animals, including fecal waste associated with farming and the discharge of domestic sewage. Feces can contain many types of bacteria found in waterbodies, including the coliform group, streptococcus, lactobacillus, staphylococcus, and clostridia. It is important to note, however, that most bacteria are not pathogenic.

Protozoans are unicellular organisms that reproduce by fission and occur primarily in the aquatic environment. Pathogenic protozoans, which constitute almost 30 percent of the 35,000 known species of protozoans, originate in the feces of warm-blooded animals. They can exist in the environment as cysts that hatch, grow, and multiply after ingestion, causing associated illness. Encystation of protozoans facilitates their survival by protecting them from harsh conditions like high temperature and salinity. Two protozoan species of major concern as waterborne pathogens are Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium parvum.

Viruses are a group of infectious agents that require a host in which to live. They are composed of a sequence of nucleic acids-either DNA or RNA, depending on the virus-that is covered by a protein shell for protection. The most significant virus group affecting water quality and human health grows and reproduces in cells of the gastrointestinal tract of infected animals. These enteric viruses are excreted in feces and include hepatitis A, rotaviruses, caliciviruses (Norwalklike viruses), adenoviruses, enteroviruses, and reoviruses.

Health Concerns

The main route of exposure to disease-causing organisms in recreation waters is contact with polluted water while swimming, including accidental ingestion of contaminated water. In waters that contain fecal contamination, potentially all the waterborne diseases spread by the fecal-oral route could be contracted by bathers. These illnesses include diseases resulting from the following:

  • Bacterial infection (such as cholera, salmonellosis, shigellosis, and gastroenteritis).
  • Viral infection (such as infectious hepatitis, gastroenteritis, and intestinal diseases caused by enteroviruses).
  • Protozoan infections (such as amoebic dysentery and giardiasis).

Swimming in contaminated water most frequently causes gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis is the inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, usually caused by a microorganism. Symptoms include chills, nausea, diarrhea, and fever.

Although bathing in contaminated water most often results in contracting diseases that affect the gastrointestinal tract, diseases affecting the eye, ear, skin, and upper respiratory tract can be contracted as well. Infection often results when pathogenic microorganisms come into contact with small breaks and tears in the skin or ruptures in delicate membranes in the ear or nose resulting from the trauma associated with diving into the water. The attached table provides a list of diseases that can result from contact with water contaminated with anthropogenically introduced or naturally occurring bacterial, viral, and protozoan pathogens.

Waterborne Pathogens




Bacteria Escherichia coli (enteropathogenic) Gastroenteritis Vomiting, diarrhea, death in susceptible populations
Helicobacter pylori Gastritis Diarrhea. Peptic ulcers are a long-term sequela.
Legionella pneumophila Legionellosis Acute respiratory illness
Leptospira Leptospirosis Jaundice, fever (Weil’s disease)
Pseudomonas Infections in immunocompromised individuals Urinary tract infections, respiratory system infections, dermatitis, soft tissue infections, bacteremia, and a variety of systemic infections
Salmonella typhi Typhoid fever High fever, diarrhea, ulceration of the small intestine
Salmonella Salmonellosis Diarrhea, dehydration
Shigella Shigellosis Bacillary dysentery
Vibrio cholerae Cholera Extremely heavy diarrhea, dehydration
Yersinia enterolitica Yersinosis Diarrhea
Protozoans Balantidium coli Balantidiasis Diarrhea, dysentery
Cryptosporidium Cryptosporidiosis Diarrhea
Entamoeba histolytica Ameobiasis (amoebic dysentery) Prolonged diarrhea with bleeding, abscesses of the liver and small intestine
Giardia lamblia Giardiasis Mild to severe diarrhea, nausea, indigestion
Naegleria fowleri Amoebic meningoencephalitis Fatal disease; inflammation of the brain
Viruses Adenovirus (31 types) Respiratory disease Eye infections, diarrhea
Astroviruses Gastroenteritis Vomiting, diarrhea
Enteroviruses (67 types, e.g., polio, echo, and Coxsackie viruses) Gastroenteritis Diarrhea. Heart anomalies and meningitis are long-term sequela and are very rare.
Hepatitis A and E Infectious hepatitis Jaundice, fever
Caliciviruses (Norwalk- and Sapporo-like viruses) Gastroenteritis Vomiting, diarrhea
Reovirus Gastroenteritis Vomiting, diarrhea
Rotavirus Gastroenteritis Vomiting, diarrhea

Source: USEPA, 2001.

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