Flesh-eating bacteria found in St. Johns River

Jacksonville University professor and student group finds Flesh-eating bacteria in Saint Johns River.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville University found a type of flesh-eating bacteria living in the Saint Johns River. However, officials push that these findings are not a cause for alarm, but instead, a reason to take extra precautions.

Jacksonville University assistant professor Anthony Oullette spear-headed the project along with a team of JU marine biology students to look for the bacteria.

"We found three of the six sites that we sampled tested positive for vibrio vulnificus and one of those sites tested positive for a gene in Vibrio parahaemolyticus, which can cause diarrhea," Oullette says.

Related: Coast Guard warns of port-a-potty floating in St. Johns River

"Some flesh-eating bacteria can cause an inch of tissue damage every hour," Oullette said.

The last known death due to marine bacteria in the Saint Johns was in 2005. Since then, Oullette says one person fell ill due to bacteria in the river.

According to Oullette, the numbers and type of bacteria are not known from the study. He says, he would still jump in the river.

"For me, my findings are not alarming, but according to the Health Department there are certain people who should not jump in the river and who should stay away from these type of microbes."

Those people include those with open cuts or sores or those with a compromised immune system who don't heal well.

Jimmy Orth, Executive Director of Saint John's River Keeper, says the findings tell us we need to use precaution.

"Avoid any suspicious or dark looking water and algal blooms because those could carry toxins in the water," Orth said.

The Duval County Health Department is aware of the findings, and have not issued any alert.

"We always encourage people to get in the river, to experience the river, to feel the river," said Orth. "But we want them to be careful when they do it."

Jim Alabiso is an outdoor lover who swims in the Saint Johns River regularly.

"I've swam this river over the last four or five years, probably over seventy times," said Alabiso.

Alabiso says he's not alarmed by the recent bacteria findings.

"This stuff is in there all the of the time," said Alabiso. "This is not news. The news is that we have great students from JU and a professor taking time to look at our river and monitor our river."

Jim says he is ready to get back in the river next month.

"If we are worried about toxins, it's more dangerous to go for a run over the Main Street bridge and suck in all of those toxins," Alabiso said.


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