Since the storm season is upon us here in California: What types of infections/diseases am I exposing myself to by surfing after or during the rain? I've heard that you can get Hepatitis, are there any other dangers? Is it worth it to get vaccinated for some of these diseases to lessen the risks?
asked by Joe McBride

Chad Nelsen, environmental director of the Surfrider Foundation, responds:

"The Surfrider Foundation has always advised the public never to swim or surf after a rain. The coastal waters are polluted with urban runoff and sewage from leaking water logged sewer pipes. In most places, and especially in Southern California, ocean water quality after a rain is dangerous.

In Southern California most counties issues a 72-hour advisory after it rains. Unfortunately, they do not post the beaches after a rain. The Orange County Department of Health has been quoted as saying, "We just assume all surfers know that the water is polluted after it rains." Surfrider thinks increased outreach must be done to warn surfers of the risks.

A study cited in EPA's draft guidance document on water quality found that surfers and divers were at greater risk of illness from contact with contaminated beach water than are swimmers or waders. In addition, an epidemiological study in Santa Monica Bay found that there is increased risk in swimming within 400 yards of a flowing storm drain. In Southern California you will be hard pressed to find a stretch of surf that isn't near a storm drain.

Waters that are polluted may contain several different disease-causing organisms, commonly called pathogens. Enteric pathogens -- those that live in the human intestine - can carry or cause a number of infectious diseases. Swimmers in sewage-polluted water could contract any illness that is spread by ingestion of fecal-contaminated water. (AIDS and many other diseases are not carried by enteric pathogens.)

Viruses are believed to be the major cause of swimming-associated diseases, and are responsible for gastroenteritis, hepatitis, respiratory illness, and ear, nose, and throat problems. Gastroenteritis, which can also be caused by bacteria, is a common term for a variety of diseases that can cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, stomach ache, nausea, headache, and fever. Other microbial diseases that can be contracted by swimmers include salmonellosis, shigellosis, and infection caused by E. coli (a type of enteric pathogen). Other microbial pathogens found at varying concentrations in recreational waters include amoeba and protozoa, which can cause giardiasis, amoebic dysentery, skin rashes, and pink eye.

There is also what we call the "toxic cocktail" of pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals and other pollutants that are not monitored regularly and the health effects are poorly understood.

Here are a couple (very) extreme Surfrider examples from last year that resulted from presumed sewage spills:

Chris O'Connel had a cut on his arm and went in Mission Bay San Diego after a recent rain. His arm became infected with the Streptococcus bacteria and he almost died. Three operations and two and half weeks in the hospital saved his life.

Also, a member of the Long Beach Chapter of Surfrider Foundation became infected with the same bacteria after surfing near the San Gabriel River Mouth. Charles Moore of Long Beach was also hospitalized for two weeks."