Swimming in the Chesapeake Bay? The safest areas in Anne Arundel county–and least safe areas–are something everyone should know before jumping in. Water quality & safety change daily–depending on rainfall and other factors. Stay up to date and know where & when to swim–and when to not!
How to Avoid Getting Sick in the Bay
Of all the rules to live by, the most important is not to swim within 48 hours of a rainfall.
“After rainfall of 1/2 inch or more, all Anne Arundel County beaches are under a no swimming/no direct water contact advisory for at least 48 hours” –Anne Arundel County Health Department.
Avoid Bay related infections by following these 7 simple rules:
- Do not swim in the Bay before checking this site: Anne Arundel County’s Beach Swimming Guide
- After rainfall of 1/2 inch or more, all Anne Arundel County beaches are under a no swimming/no direct water contact advisory for at least 48 hours.
- Never swim in cloudy, murky water or near storm drains.
- Look for trash and other signs of pollution, such as oil slicks or scum on the water.
- Do not swim in the Bay if you have an ear infection, a perforated eardrum, open cuts, scratches or skin lesions, or a compromised immune system.
- Do not swim in water areas where there is a fish kill or where there are any dead animals or known algae bloom.
- Try not to swallow water while swimming.
If you follow these simple rules, you lower your risk for getting a water-related disease dramatically.
Are Chesapeake Bay Crabs or Fish Dangerous?
Eating crabs and fish are always ok as long as they are cooked thoroughly–even if from a non-swimming safe waterway. But, remember that fish should be kept on ice or refrigerated. And remember to never put cooked crabs or fish back in the containers they were kept in before cooking.
Which Areas are Safest or Least Safe?
Unfortunately, there is no one area that is “always safe”. The possibility of sewage leak, or irresponsible boater pumping out, means that any river can suddenly develop high bacterial counts.
As of July 23, Selby on the Bay on the South River had high bacteria counts and is being resampled.
In case you missed them, just last month, the following beaches were closed due to very high bacteria counts:
- Saunders Point (1 week)
- Arden on the Severn (2 weeks)
- Londontown at Midland & Highland (1 week)
Some examples of higher levels detected in the last month which did NOT result in closure:
- Londontown at Arundel & Delmar (July 13th: 87 count/EPA acceptable 104)
- Bay Ridge at Lake Ogleton (June 27th: 47 count/EPA acceptable 104)
- Cape St. Clair (June 14th: 27 count/EPA acceptable 104)
What Diseases Lurk in the Chesapeake Bay?
- Vibrio (“Flesh Eating Bacteria”)
- Algae Blooms and Cyanobacteria
- Mycobacterium marinum
The CDC uses the term Recreational water illnesses (RWIs). RWIs are caused by germs spread by water contact. RWIs can be a wide variety of infections, including intestinal, skin, ear, lungs, eye, nervous system and wound infections.
The most common RWI is diarrhea. Diarrheal illnesses can be caused by germs such as Crypto (short for Cryptosporidium), Giardia, Shigella, norovirus and E. coli O157:H7.
In 2009, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation published, “Bad Water: The Impact on Human Health in the Chesapeake Bay Region” (which is a great resource). In it, CBF states, “The Chesapeake Bay in summer is like a warm pond with a broth of nutrients at the right temperature to breed algae and bacteria.”
Vibrio (“Flesh Eating Bacteria”)
Otherwise known as “Flesh-eating bacteria,”, there are several species of Vibrio. Vibrio vulnificus causes severe skin ulcers, gangrene, and deadly blood infections in people who expose cuts to warm saltwater containing the bacteria, as well as diarrheal illnesses in people who eat shellfish infected with Vibrio.
Another species, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, causes diarrhea, vomiting, and skin infections, but is seldom deadly.
The best known is Vibrio cholerae which causes cholera, a diarrheal disease now virtually eliminated from the United States.
Harmful Algal Blooms and Cyanobacteria
One toxin-producing form of algae, called blue-green algae, is not really algae at all, but rather a class of bacteria, called cyanobacteria. There are at least 35 types of algae in the Chesapeake Bay that produce toxins. The most well known, Blue-green (Microcystis), is the cause of most blooms and fish kills reported.
A 2008 study reported that between 2000 and 2006, 31 percent of the waters tested with blue-green algal (cyanobacteria) blooms had enough toxins to make them unsafe for children to swim in.
According to the World Health Organization, Cyanobacterial toxins are classified by how they affect the human body. Some will affect the liver, nervous system or intestinal systems. Some symptoms can include skin irritation, stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, fever, sore throat, headache, muscle and joint pain, blisters of the mouth and liver damage. Swimmers in water containing cyanobacterial toxins may suffer allergic reactions, such as asthma, eye irritation, rashes, and blisters around the mouth and nose.
Mycobacterium marinum (M.
This infection can require 6 months of antibiotics and usually happens to people who swim with an open skin cut. The average time between being in the water and showing signs of infection was 21 days (but the range was anywhere from 5 to 270 days). Also known as “Fish Tank Granulomas,” they are slow growing and typically affect the elbows, knees, and backs of feet and hands. The infection can look like either nodules (image left) or shallow ulcers (image right).
A protozoan organism comes from human and animal poop. Cryptosporidium can cause diarrhea, and in people with compromised immune systems, more serious illnesses. Dr. Thaddeus Graczyk, a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researcher, found Cryptosporidium (which local health departments do not test for) at levels that could infect people in 70 percent of weekend samples at a Baltimore County beach.
On the other hand, the Maryland Department of the Environment has said that testing for Cryptosporidium is impractical and expensive. Instead, checking for other signs of fecal contamination in general such as a simple test for E. coli or Enterococci bacteria is reliable. These tests are performed by local health departments, follow guidelines set up by the EPA, and use a conservative estimate of risk.
A compound in polluted runoff from farms, lawns, and streets, nitrates seep into surface and ground water. Drinking water with excessive nitrates can potentially raise the risk of cancer, nervous system deformities in infants, hemorrhaging of the spleen, and other problems.
If you have any questions or have been experiencing one of the above symptoms, see your primary care physician immediately. Evolve Medical is also happy to see you. Same day scheduling on-line here or call 844-322-4222. Or email them at [email protected].