What Coast residents say about Vibrio: ‘I haven’t so much as dipped a toe in the water.’

Donnie Humfress loved wade fishing in Hancock County. But he doesn’t do it anymore.

An uptick in the number of reported Vibrio cases in recent years has kept him and his family out of the water.

“I’m just not willing to risk that, and I’m not willing to risk family members and friends becoming infected with it,” he told the Sun Herald. “Until officials can confirm that the threat is no longer present, neither myself or my family will be in the waters of the (Mississippi Sound.)“

Humfress was one of the hundreds of readers who responded in our Facebook comments section or sent in emails to us about coast waters and Vibrio, a naturally occurring bacteria that can cause flesh-eating wounds.

We asked these four questions:

1. How long have you lived on the Coast?

2. Are you a beachgoer or water enthusiast?

3. Are you afraid to get in the water? Why or why not?

4. What do you love about living on the Coast?

Most people said they would not enter the water, but Vibrio was not always the reason. A select few, like U.S. Army Maj. William D. Austin, a resident of the Coast for more than five decades who is currently stationed in Kuwait, said he’s not afraid to get in the waters.

“Use common sense,” he writes. “Stay aware of the ‘No Swimming’ signs.”

Below are a few other responses we received. Some have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Rev. John W. McManus, 55, lives in Biloxi and moved here from Philadelphia 18 years ago

As I have poor circulation in my limbs, neuralgia/neuropathy, bullae, and a somewhat compromised immune system, I have become terrified of our gorgeous beaches. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, I was frequently in the waters in Biloxi and Ocean Springs beaches. However, since becoming aware of Vibrio’s presence in our waters, I haven’t so much as dipped a toe in the water. I certainly miss bobbing about in the water, but it is not worth my limbs nor life. I was an avid beachgoer.

I love living on the coast because of the laidback way of life… Since moving here, I am much more at ease and calmer.

Marvin Clifford, 55, Saucier

I will never get in the water on the beach, bays or rivers on the Mississippi Gulf Coast again.

I personally know two people who have contracted Vibrio in the past 5 years in Harrison County — one from reaching in a bait bucket and one from cleaning crabs in his front yard that someone dropped off.

I realize that the Vibrio problem is worse this year with the algae bloom, but it is a deadly threat every year. I do not believe that the government does enough to warn people. (Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality) announces beach closures when the threat is highest, but do not stress the seriousness of the issue. I don’t recall local governments ever issuing any warnings. I realize the importance of tourism dollars, but I also realize the greater importance of possible loss of life or limb.

It should also be noted that I am not a huge environmentalist and probably one of the most conservative people you’ve ever met. I love the coast and the weather in the mild winters, fall and spring times. I’m not a fan of the hot summers any longer. Maybe that comes with age. Also, love the scenery and mostly conservative politics.

Diane Quinn, 72

We have lived on the coast since 2001. We were boat enthusiasts — swimming at the Horn Island only (and) used the beaches here for wading only.

Yes, I am afraid of Vibrio! We love the coast for its peacefulness and beauty of the water. We still love to look at the water but gave up boating because of age and Vibrio. No sense in taking the boat out if we can’t go to the islands and swim. No sense in taking the grandchildren to the beach to play because they would want to enter the water. Not about to eat any more fish from here at this time.

We keep hearing this Vibrio has always been in the water, and yet we know people who have lived here all their lives and they never heard of it before recent years. All the hype in the news keeps us off the beaches.

Kevin Sullivan, Diamondhead

As a 20 year resident of Diamondhead, MS I have been aware of the possibility of contracting Vibrio vulnificus for several years, but the presence of blue-green algae has upped the consequences of fishing and crabbing in our coastal waters.

I routinely include a bottle of water diluted with bleach and iodine wound spray to apply when fishing or gathering crab traps. Since late June after the release of advisories from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, I have avoided any fishing or watercraft use in the Bay of St. Louis.

Governor Bryant was quoted as having no problem with the consumption of ‘OFFSHORE’ seafood but made no mention of fish and crabs from coastal waters. I realize MDEQ will not update the water quality until after the Bonnet Carré Spillway is closed.

For now, my summer has been ruined, I can only hope this doesn’t extend into the fall fishing and crabbing season.

Nick Wooten is the Southern Trends and Culture reporter for McClatchy’s South region. He is based in Columbus, Georgia at the Ledger-Enquirer but his work also appears in The (Macon) Telegraph and The Sun Herald in Biloxi.Before joining McClatchy, he worked for The (Shreveport La.) Times covering city government and investigations. He is a graduate of Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.