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  • Writer's pictureMelody Dunn

Staying Safe At The Beach...from Beach Flag Warning Systems to Bacteria

Looking forward to sun, fun and relaxation on your beach days? The beautiful white sand and glistening emerald waters can bring so much joy and healing! They do, however present hidden dangers that may be avoided by following basic safety precautions. Please use common sense, obey all local beach regulations and heed advisories and warnings.

Eighty percent of beach rescues are attributed to rip currents which can be very dangerous for even the best swimmers. However, big waves and rip currents are not the only hidden dangers. Here’s some precautions and essential information you should know before stepping foot on those sugar white sands.

Flag Warning System

Avoid dangerous situations and always assess the level of swimming ability you and your children have. Ensure your friends and family enjoy a safe day on the Emerald Coast and understand Flag Warning Systems.

Green Flag: Conditions are favorable for swimming, low hazard, calm conditions, but swimmers should still exercise caution.

Yellow Flag: Medium hazard indicates moderate surf and rip currents. Weak swimmers should be discouraged from entering the water.

Red Flag: High Hazard indicates high surf and strong rip currents. All swimmers are discouraged from entering the water. Those who do should exercise extreme caution.

Red Over Red Flags: Danger, the water is closed to public use! Anyone entering the water is subject to arrest.

Purple Flag: Marine pests are present. These are limited to but may include jellyfish, stingrays, harmful algae, sea snakes or other marine life capable of causing injury.

Check out to learn about high tides, low tides, weather conditions and other information.

Identify Rip Currents

Look for strangely quiet channels of water or suspicious foamy channels of water. Rip currents are narrow streams of fast moving water that pull you away from the shore. These can occur on any beach with breaking waves. If upon entering the water you feel a strong pull, get out! If you get into water above your chest, it will be very difficult to fight the current. If you do find yourself caught within a strong pull of water, remember keeping calm is the key. Rip currents don’t pull you under water. Avoid exhausting yourself by fighting the current. Begin swimming parallel to the shore and you will likely escape the pull. Most rip currents are less than 30 feet wide. Once you have escaped the current, swim diagonally towards the shore to prevent getting caught in it again. If you can’t escape, try to float or tread water in the current and call for help.

Beware of Weather Changes: Be sure to read the weather signs and pay close attention to clouds forming, unexpected lightening strikes and sudden storms.

Remember The Ocean Depth Is Unpredictable: Unlike a swimming pool, you cannot be sure of exact depths of water. Edges of sandbars are continually moving and it’s easy to get hit by a wave and quickly dragged to a deeper area of water.

Pay Attention To Threats of Marine Life: Keep an eye out for jellyfish, weever fish, stingray, man-of-war, sea urchins and sharp broken shells. Wearing water shoes and other protective clothing may reduce changes of stings or cuts. Be sure to get updated information on shark sightings and do not take unnecessary risks.

Always Remember To always swim with a buddy, monitor children at close proximity, obey the posted flags and signs, learn rip current safety, enter the water feet first, be aware of shifting ocean depths, wear sunscreen, drink plenty of water and never enter the water after drinking alcoholic beverages.

Be Aware When High Bacteria Level Advisories Are Posted: Sometimes beaches may become polluted by drains after a rainfall, animal waste contamination or untreated sewage released into water. If advisories are posted or beaches are closed it may be due to harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites found present in the water. People most likely to develop an illness (usually gastrointestinal) or infection are children, elderly and anyone with a weakened immune system.

  • Avoid swallowing water

  • Wash hands after playing in the sand.

How To Protect Yourself From The Dreaded Flesh Eating Bacteria (Necrotizing Fasciitis): Vibrio vulnificus, a naturally occurring bacteria found in warm, brackish or salty water such as the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding bays can enter the body through and open sore, a minor scrape or even an insect bite. Health officials from The Florida Department of Health in Bay County have said,

“If you are healthy and have a strong immune system, your chances of developing or having complications due to this condition are extremely low.”

This bacteria causes necrotizing fasciitis and is otherwise known as “flesh eating bacteria.” Because it is often deadly in a short period of time, one in three people who contract this infection will die. Rapid diagnosis is the key to effective treatment and recovery. It can be treated with antibiotics and surgery to remove the infected areas but requires immediate medical attention.

Symptoms include swollen or red areas on the skin with pain and fever, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, black spots on the skin, changes in color of the skin or signs of infection anywhere on the skin.

The CDC Recommends:

  • Avoid getting in the water if you are immunocompromised, have open wounds, sores, scrapes, insect bites or blisters.

  • If you are immunocompromised wear water shoes or other footwear to keep from getting cuts by shells or rocks.

If you already have an open wound…

  • Keep draining or open wounds covered with clean, dry bandages until healed.

  • Don’t delay first aid of even minor, non-infected wounds (like blisters, scrapes, or any break in the skin).

  • Avoid spending time in whirlpools, hot tubs, swimming pools and natural bodies of water (e.g., lakes, rivers, oceans) if you have an open wound or skin infection.

  • Wash hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub if washing is not possible.

  • If you suspect you’ve contracted the bacteria, immediately seek medical attention!

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