SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. -- A popular Sarasota County beach has reopened for swimmers after water tests found levels of enterococci bacteria have returned to acceptable levels.
Sarasota County had kept Nokomis Beach closed to swimming over the Fourth of July weekend after testing of the water on Friday showed elevated levels of bacteria primarily found in animal waste.
But with two recent closings of beaches in south Sarasota County in recent weeks, what's lurking in the water?
“Well, the bacteria is etericocci.” Environmental Health Director Tom Higgenbotham says the bacteria is enteric, which means that it is found naturally in the intestines of warm blooded animals. “Could be from wild animals, could be from shore birds, absolutely.”
Entericocci is also naturally occurring in the environment, in soil, in sand, and in water. And its high bacteria levels in the water that prompted the advisory. “We had sample results greater than two hundred colony forming units.”
People drinking or ingesting water with high levels of the bacteria may have these symptoms: “Diarrhea, nausea, maybe some vomiting. General GI intestinal type symptoms,” says Health Department epidemiologist Michael Drennon.
There are other ways enterocci can get into your body. “If the person has like a cut or a wound, that could also become infected.”
And symptoms are different. “Typical wound infection: fever, infection around the infection spot.”
When the bacteria hits a certain level the Health Department steps in. “Anything above a hundred and four, the water quality is considered poor at that point, and that's when the health department would issue a no swim advisory.”
The beaches themselves aren’t closed during an advisory, but officials recommend against going into the water.
But at moderate levels, waters are relatively safe, says Higgenbotham. “Anything between 36 and 104 colony forming units.”
A colony forming unit is a count of the viable bacteria cells in that sample, meaning cells that could reproduce. “Low would be considered anything between zero and thirty five colony forming units per one hundred milliliters of sea water.”
And while the No Swim Advisory has been lifted at Nokomis Beach, initial samples from Monday’s testing showed elevation high enough at other four beaches that require resampling on Wednesday -- Blind Pass, Manasota Key, Venice Beach and Ringling Causeway (Bird Key Park).
Test results on Thursday will dictate whether a No Swim Advisory is issued at any of those beaches.
For recent test results in Sarasota County, and more information on beach water quality, visit the Our Gulf Environment webpage.