Amy Horneman, PhD, chief of Microbiology and Molecular Diagnostics at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Maryland Health Care System’s Baltimore VA Medical Center and associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, is both a national and international expert on Aeromonas, the bacteria naturally occurring in all types of fresh and brackish water worldwide, including the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. The number of bacteria in the water increases during the warmer months—May to October—with the largest numbers present in the water in July and August. "There are 29 species of Aeromonas, and of those, eight are known to cause human illness," Horneman says. "When we engage in recreational activities such as boating, fishing, swimming, crabbing and water skiing, we expose ourselves to these naturally occurring bacteria that play an important role in aquatic eco-systems worldwide."
Aquatic recreational exposure with any one of the eight species can cause a range of physical illnesses. Accidently ingesting the water can cause diarrhea that is usually self-limiting and most often does not require medical intervention. But having an open cut or sustaining an injury such as a skin wound while swimming or boating on the Bay or any other brackish or fresh water source is another story, as evidenced by the flesh-eating syndrome caused by Aeromonas hydrophila that has afflicted a Georgia woman as noted in recent news stories.
Below are some safety tips for staying healthy during this summer’s water recreational activities: