City bans swimming at Oceanfront due to bacterial contamination

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(Courtesy Virginia Department of Health)

(Courtesy Virginia Department of Health)

Stay out of the ocean “until further notice,” the City told swimmers Wednesday.

The Virginia Beach Department of Public Health banned swimming and wading between Eighth and 22nd Streets, citing bacteria levels that exceeded state water-quality standards. Health officials detected the elevated bacteria count during routine tests of recreational waters, which officials have conducted since the 1970s, according to a release.

“The coastal waters of Virginia are generally very clean, and we test them weekly from May through September,” Dr. Heidi Kulberg, director of the public health department, said in the release. “On the occasions when waters fail to meet the standards, we need to protect public health by letting residents and visitors know.”

Routine testing of the waters at Fifteenth Street on Monday detected Enterococci, a type of organism that indicates fecal contamination, Valerie Thompson, environmental health supervisor for the department, said in a phone interview. The source of the contamination at that site is unknown, she said; it could be rainwater runoff, boat discharge, or waste from birds or a dog on the beach, Thompson said.

“We’ll never know,” Thompson said. “It’s probably gone now from a tidal change.”

The advisory will be lifted when test results meet state water-quality standards again, the release said.

That could be as soon as Thursday morning, if the sample taken today indicates acceptable levels, according to Thompson. It takes 24 hours for the test results to become available.

Until then, signs will be posted on the beach between Eighth and 22nd Streets, saying that swimming and wading are banned “until further notice.”

People with compromised immune systems, children and the elderly should swimming in the affected area, Thompson said.

There is an increased risk of developing gastrointestinal illness and skin, eye and respiratory infections from swimming in contaminated waters, the release said.

Virginia Beach has seen similar advisories in recent years, according to the Virginia Department of Health’s website. In 2010, there were 12 advisories. In 2011, there were three. There were 10 in 2012 and four in 2013. The advisories were lifted the following day after one resample, according to the health department’s website says.

“We encourage the public to protect their health by complying with this advisory,” Kulberg said in the release. “Typically an advisory of this nature is temporary and will be withdrawn once the bacteria levels have returned to safe levels.”

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