(Gloucestercitynews.net)--The number of cases of flesh-eating bacteria in New Jersey is increasing, according to a new study published in Annals of Internal Medicine. Researchers say warming water temperatures and decreased water quality may be the cause of a growing number of reports of the flesh-eating bacteria in the Delaware Bay area. The bacteria can cause severe skin rashes and other illnesses.
“Water pollution is not only affecting our ability to swim, but endangering our health. Climate impacts and warmer waters are making flesh-eating bacteria more common in New Jersey. That creates serious health impacts that can kill you. This is just the latest example of the growing dangers of climate change and the state’s failure to address climate impacts and protect our waterways,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Summer is here. People should not have to be afraid to use our waterways.”
The team of specialists behind the study are from Cooper University Hospital in Camden, the University of Sciences and the Geisinger Health System. They detailed five cases of infection from flesh-eating bacteria from the Delaware Bay area in 2017 and 2018. Four of the five patients survived the infection. All of the patients had existing illnesses or medical conditions that may have made them more vulnerable to the bacteria.
“Climate change is bringing warmer temperatures, more rain and longer summer seasons. The impacts raise water temperatures and increase stormwater pollution, allowing many kinds of bacteria to thrive. Flesh-eating bacteria have been reported in the Gulf Coast and in the Chesapeake Bay in the past, but rarely as far north as the Delaware Bay. This year we have also seen more reports of stinging jellyfish from Barnegat Bay as far south as North Wildwood. This is also because of warming waters and increased pollution. High levels of fecal bacteria are again being reported at Shore beaches. The pollution is even creating problems in fresh water. Swartswood Lake State Park had to close its swimming area because of a Hazardous Algal Bloom,” said Tittel. “We have so many beautiful places to swim, and we can’t even use them because we can get very sick.”
In 2018 there were 155 advisories or beach closures resulting from high bacteria levels along the Jersey Shore. A third of those instances occurred during the second week of June. DEP said that was the worst week for beach water quality at the Shore since 2007.
“Stormwater pollution from combined sewer overflow, septic runoff, and leaky sewer pipes are bringing nutrients into our waters making pollution worse. Warmer temperatures and added rain resulting from climate change create more runoff from overdevelopment and farms, adding even more nutrients to the water. It’s a vicious cycle that will continue leading to more beaches and swimming areas being closed, and more health risks when we do swim,” said Tittel.
The researchers wrote that warmer sea surface temperatures have resulted in longer summer seasons. Those longer seasons are associated with alterations in water quality and the quantity, distribution and seasonal windows for bacteria in marine ecosystems, including the flesh-eating bacteria.
“In order to deal with problems like flesh-eating bacteria we have to address all of the things contributing to climate change and water pollution. We need aggressive action to reduce greenhouse gases. That includes a moratorium on all fossil-fuel projects in the state. We also need a comprehensive approach to protecting our coast and waterways. We must limit development in certain areas. We must spend millions to retrofit storm basins. We must work to restore watersheds, wetlands and streams, and preserve environmentally sensitive areas,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “If we don’t take these steps and many others, we’ll continue to see more dangers like flesh-eating bacteria invading our waterways and jeopardizing our health.”