Garden Route oysters and waters declared safe following bacteria scare


Cape Town - Test results conducted by the Eden District Municipality in all water bodies in Wilderness and surrounds last week came back negative after being tested for Vibro vulnificus in water bodies in the Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park (GRNP), eliminating the possibility that shellfish in the area may have been contaminated with a deadly bacteria. 

This comes after a fit 81-year-old man from the Kaaimans River, which is a few kilometers from the Garden Route National Park, died from the vibro vulnificus bacteria after swimming in the ocean in the area recently. 

The bacteria is found naturally worldwide in warm coastal waters and there is no association with sewage contamination, the GRNP's Nandi Mgwadlamba says. Although Vibrio vulnificus infection is not a notifiable disease in South African, the death spurred scientists to sample the Garden Route ocean's water for traces of the bacteria. 

An alert was also issued by the District Municipality to persons with underlying medical conditions, any chronic condition especially liver disease and diabetes to not swim with open wounds in brackish water as they may be at increased risk of serious infection. 

Some evident signs of infection include severe pain, diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Members who contract these symptoms are advised to seek medical assistance urgently. 

SANParks scientists are now convinced that this fatality "was the rarest case ever", said Mgwadlamba, as all tests for the bacteria, from waters sampled from Plettenberg Bay along the whole Garden Route, came back negative. 

This despite conditions being remarkably favourable for the presence of the bacteria. 

For the bacteria to increase to the point where it can cause harm to humans, the water temperature should be between 20°C and 31°C. 

Fears for the vibro vulnificus bacteria are heightened as the bacteria typically occurs in brackish water, "in an interchange zone between freshwater and seawater" like estuaries - of which there are plenty in the Garden Route. Salinity level refers to the saltiness or dissolved salt content in a body of water.

Also, infections are seasonal and 85% occur in the summer months. 

Thankfully, however, waters along the Garden Route tested negative for the bacteria and the Eden Environmental Health section has also indicated that no beaches will be closed. 

Clive Africa for the Eden District Municipality says the bacteria should be considered the same as the regular Red Tides along SA's coasts. The transmission of the bacteria is from eating raw or under-cooked shellfish, particularly oysters harvested from warm waters. Infections may also occur when open soft tissue wounds are exposed to warm estuaries."

The public is warned not to swim with open wounds in river estuaries, and to be cautious of eating raw oysters.

However, the colder temperatures during 'oyster season' in the winter months of June and July should not deter anybody from checking out the the iconic Knysna Oyster Festival set to take place from 1 - 10 July this year.

We'd love you to share your travel experiences with us, or you can connect with us on FacebookTwitter or Instagram.