The water in Long Island Sound is safe for swimmers from flesh-eating bacteria — as long as all open wounds are properly covered up.

That’s the message Darien Health Department Director David Knauf wants to convey to residents, in response to recent concerned calls to the department.

“There have been five cases of flesh-eating bacteria in Long Island Sound reported over the summer, and the state health department has issued a warning,” Knauf said.

The people who became sick from the bacteria went into the water with open wounds, cuts, scratches or abrasions, according to Knauf.

Therefore, he said when going swimming, clamming or shell fishing, make sure to cover all wounds or cuts “really well, so salt water doesn’t get on them.”

Or, he said, avoid going in the water at all until the wound heals.

He referred to the reports of vibrio vulnificus, the rod shaped bacterial organisms mentioned on social media, which gets into an open wound and can cause a serious infection. This may result in the need for amputation if antibiotics aren’t successful, according to Knauf.

Of the five cases of flesh-eating bacteria reported, none of them are from Darien.

“Even with that being the case, all residents need to know that this is out there,” Knauf said. “If you’re going to go in the water, you need to be careful.”

Swimmer’s itch

Additionally, when coming home from being in the water, Knauf said it’s important to “get out of your wet bathing suit, dry yourself off, and take a shower.”

Without taking those precautions, one can get “swimmers itch from the salt in the water,” which he said is more common than the flesh-eating bacteria.

“Swimmer’s itch is an allergic reaction that is really irritating,” he said. “It happens if saltwater dries on your skin and you don’t shower right away. Parasites burrow into your skin and itchy spots come.”

Safety of local waters

To ensure the bacteriological safety of the beaches, the Darien Health Department takes water samples at Darien beaches — Weed Beach and Pear Tree Point Beach — once a week, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, for bacteria.

He added that over the course of the summer, there hasn’t been a single sample exceed the safe water standards established by the Department of Public Health.

Closed beaches

There have been several instances over the summer when the town had to close the beaches due to rain.

“We had a couple of pretty big downpours,” Knauf said.

“If there is over an inch of rain, we preemptively close the beach,” Knauf said. “We have found in the past that an inch of rain leads to elevated bacteria counts.”

He said he does that to be proactive and insure and protect public health.

“We close the beach because we don’t know what the source of the bacteria is,” he added.

sfox@darientimes.com