Texas A&M professor tests for E. coli in Harvey flooded waterways

Researchers at Texas A&M are monitoring Houston waterways flooded by Hurricane Harvey. What they have found will churn your stomach.

On Tuesday, Texas A&M Associate Professor Terry Gentry and his technician tested water samples in their lab. "We're trying to look at the levels in this water sample and see how that compares back against the primary contact recreational standards,” Gentry explained.

They specialize in searching for E. coli in water and tracing the source to help remedy an unhealthy situation.

On August 29th, when hurricane Harvey moved out of Houston, Gentry went into Cypress, northwest of the city and pulled samples from flooded waterways. "The levels were very high of E. coli. They were around 125 times higher than our primary contact recreation standard,” said Gentry.

Fecal matter 125 times that of an acceptable rate.

To Gentry that meant a very likely presence of bacteria, viruses and organisms that can cause disease.

You don't have to necessarily swallow it to get sick. "If you get your hands in contact with the water and then you're handling food you can get transferred into your mouth that way as well and so there's other ways instead of directly and just ingesting the water itself,” said Gentry.

The health risk isn't limited to E. coli. Those who have gone back to their property are now battling a host of respiratory issues from mold and skin infections including flesh eating bacteria.

"It can get into their blood stream and they can get very sick requiring extra care and eventually they would need very aggressive surgery to take off the dead tissue,” said Luis Ostrosky, Infectious Disease Specialist, Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center

To help Harris County Public Health is bringing wellness services into communities affected and offering vaccinations.

Gentry has gone back to test water two more times.

Those visits were in Clear Lake which is southeast of Houston.

Last Friday, the E. Coli level was actually lower than the standard rate. But he cautions that won't be the case everywhere. "It's encouraging to me with the numbers being lower it looks like they're going down that's encouraging news and by no means does it mean the water safe. This is a very unique situation. There are other ways to get infected, but it's an encouraging sign,” said Gentry.

Gentry plans to go back to test water again.

Should you head to a Harvey-affected area, you are encouraged to cover your nose and mouth while handling flood-soaked materials. You'll also want to make sure you're up to date on your tetanus shot.

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