Doctors respond to health concerns after Facebook post about beach bacteria

Doctors respond to health concerns after Facebook post about beach bacteria

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - A mother's Facebook post went viral Monday about her young daughter getting sick and going to the hospital after swimming in the ocean in North Myrtle Beach, warning parents of bacteria in the water.

Dr. Dennis Rhoades, of Doctors Care, said he hasn't seen more cases of infections after patients reported swimming in the ocean than usual.

"In my knowledge for this summer and what I've seen over the last few weeks, it really doesn't seem to be any worse," he said. "If anything, I've actually seen fewer cases of cellulitis, which is skin infections and things like that, as I have over the other years."

The Facebook post said the doctor thought the water may have caused orbital cellulitis.

Dr. Ryan Williams, an optometrist with Socastee Eye Center, said orbital cellulitis is the inflammation of tissue around, and potentially behind, the eye.

"The number one cause or the most common cause is a sinus infection," Dr. Williams said. "That bacteria can get into the eye."

He said bacteria usually can't enter the eye itself from the ocean.

"The cornea is like the skin in that it provides a protective layer for your eye, so a healthy intact cornea, there's very, very, very few bacteria that can actually penetrate," he said.

Dr. Williams said the bacteria needs a point of entry in the skin, such as a cut.

Even then, he said he has never heard of orbital cellulitis resulting from swimming in the ocean.

"There's bacteria in the ocean, so could it have caused it? Maybe," he said. "I just don't know for 100 percent certainty."

Dr. Mark Dean, of Grand Strand Vision Services, agreed orbital cellulitis generally results from sinus infections. He said it can take a couple of days to manifest itself. He said he thinks it's highly unlikely bacteria in the water would cause it.

Dr. Williams said the eye conditions he usually sees after people swim in the ocean involve irritation from salt water.

He said people can keep their eyes closed underwater or wear goggles if they want to "be on the absolute safest side." He recommends people take their contacts out before swimming or wear a daily lens that can be thrown away after.

The original Facebook post was deleted, but the public health concerns it raised aren't disappearing.

The city of North Myrtle Beach released the following statement:

"A parent recently posted on Facebook that her child may have fallen ill after having taken a swim in North Myrtle Beach. We have reached out to the parent by phone in an effort to determine how her child is doing, and where her child went swimming, and we will welcome a return call. There are some accounts that say her child swam in a pool and some that say she swam in the ocean. We would like the parent to clarify that for us. We also want the parent and child to know that we are thinking of them and wishing the girl a speedy recovery.

 We are aware that this story has spread far and wide, and that it has generated concern among other parents who have committed to or are planning vacations in North Myrtle Beach.

 The best way for us to address this unfolding situation is to focus on science.

 The ocean waters off the city of North Myrtle Beach are tested weekly for bacteria levels throughout each year. Ocean water quality readings that fall below the limit of 104CFU/100mL are considered safe for swimming. Ocean water quality readings above that may indicate the presence of bacteria and result in immediate retesting, which could result in a swimming advisory posting.

 North Myrtle Beach's year-round testing for bacteria counts in ocean water is accomplished by Coastal Carolina University's (CCU) marine science program. More than 300 samples have been collected and tested by CCU so far this year this year, and only five results exceeded the water quality standard of 104. Since the beginning of the peak summer season, none of the North Myrtle Beach ocean water quality tests have exceeded the water quality standard and most testing shows excellent ocean water quality with results below 20.   

 The South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control (SC DHEC) also tests our ocean water for bacteria from May through the end of the tourism season, with 90 samples taken so far this season. A small number of these SC DHEC samples yielded results above the water quality standard on May 3. However, since that date, SC DHEC testing also shows excellent water quality in the ocean waters off North Myrtle Beach.

Our continual testing of ocean water indicates that swimming in the ocean off North Myrtle Beach is safe."

SCDHEC tests for enterococcus bacteria, which SCDHEC physicians confirmed doesn't typically cause eye infections. They said it is more likely to cause stomach illness.

The woman who posted on Facebook did not respond to a request for comment from WMBF News.

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