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'It made us sick': Bacteria blooms cause concern after Idalia

Beaches in Southwest Florida face harmful bacteria blooms during Labor Day weekend and following Hurricane Idalia.
"It made us sick," says one SWFL man after swimming on FMB
Posted at 10:50 PM, Sep 05, 2023

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — For people who spent the Labor Day weekend on a Southwest Florida beach, the water may have looked a little different than they expected.

After Hurricane Idalia passed Fort Myers Beach, 150 miles offshore, officials found debris and bacteria at some local beaches. Officials warned the public of the potential harm and urged people to take caution.

It may not have been the view people had in mind for the three-day weekend, but considering it was the weekend after Hurricane Idalia passed through the Gulf of Mexico, it was not unexpected.

"Anytime you see a major storm event, particularly major storm surge or even major rainfall, you get a lot of run-off from the land areas into our major waterways," said Doctor Iahn Gonsenhauser, Lee Health Chief Medical Officer. "When you have that runoff dragging water or dragging other sediment off of those populated areas, a lot of things like fertilizer, sewage, and untreated wastewater can all find its way back in there."

On Wednesday, August 30, the Florida Department of Health in Lee County (DOH-Lee) released a Precautionary Swim Advisory, the day after Lee County faced a storm surge from Idalia.

Lee Swim Advisory
Lee Swim Advisory

Ultimately, DOH-Lee closed multiple beaches on Sanibel Island for the holiday weekend.

Jason Watson, a Cape Coral resident, and his family spent their Labor Day on Fort Myers Beach. He said it didn't take long in the water before he began to smell what he described as sewer water. Watson said his family has had headaches and nausea since.

“I think it might be that we’re paranoid, but we have had some itching and stuff like that," said Watson. "It was more concern for the hundreds of small children I saw out here yesterday that are getting in the water."

Children are often prone to bumps, bruises and scrapes. Dr. Gonsenhauser said anyone with an open wound or scratch can be seriously affected.

“In this case, we’re really talking about bacterial pathogens that may be in the water and the potential risks of infection," said Dr. Gonsenhauser. "Younger people, young children, pregnant adults, and particularly anyone with an immune deficiency or a depressed immune system. If you’re being treated for Oncology, Cancer, if you have some sort of immune depressing medication that you’re taking, you want to be particularly careful in the water at this time."

It's important to stay aware of local health warnings, especially after a storm.