VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Researchers at FAU's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute are researching a newly found bacteria in the Indian River Lagoon.
Researcher Gabby Barbarite says Vibrio bacteria has likely been in the Indian River Lagoon for a long time, but this is the first time it has ever been tested.
Barbarite is leading the research, testing river sediments and fin fish for traces of Vibrio bacteria. She hopes to learn where it is most abundant, and where it's coming from.
Barbarite is testing for the three strands of Vibrio that she says are most harmful to humans. She tests 6 different locations along the lagoon, and has found the dangerous bacteria in several sites.
She says if the bacteria gets into an open wound, infection can follow. In extreme cases, amputation or death can result, according to Barbarite.
"Just going in the water, having it touching your skin, you're fine. You have nothing to worry about," Barbarite said. She explained that only people with weak immune systems or open wounds are at risk.
Fishermen like Jackson Rooney are listening to the warnings. "We've got bacteria coming more and more into our lagoon," Rooney said.
Barbarite says in her tests so far, catfish have consistently tested positive for the bacteria.
"I was out fishing yesterday and caught a few catfish….I mean, I'm a little bit worried. I mean, I've got some cuts on my hands stuff like that but I just washed them out."
Barbarite says fish are still safe to eat so long as they are cooked thoroughly.
U.S Senator Bill Nelson spoke Friday in Vero Beach about the newly found Vibrio bacteria.
He says if freshwater releases are found to contribute to the Vibrio bacteria count in the lagoon, it could become another factor in his fight to send Lake Okeechobee discharges away from the lagoon.
"It's another threat coming out of our river," Nelson said.
Barbarite is researching if the freshwater releases impact the bacteria. She says the bacteria does thrive in brackish water.