People getting infections after swimming in the San Gabriel River

Investigations

GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — Adults and children say they are ending up in the emergency room with serious infections after swimming in various spots along the San Gabriel River in Williamson County.

Amanda Heeneman tells KXAN she and her three children were on the trail at Booty Road Park in Georgetown the first week of June when they decided to just stick their feet in.

Two days later, her three-year-old daughter Dylan had pain on the inside of her right elbow where she had an eczema spot.

(KXAN)

“She was waking up at night crying that it hurt,” said Heeneman. “It went from zero to 10. It started looking really bad.”

Dylan’s red, swollen arm turned into a full-blown infection despite her mom’s best efforts to keep the skin clean before and after swimming.

“I had Neosporin and bandages in my bag so after they splashed in the water I had hand sanitizer and I took the Band-Aid off that she had and then put Neosporin and a new bandage on and as soon as we got home, and we all showered.”

The skin started blistering after an initial trip to the doctor so her mom took her to the emergency room at Dell Children’s Medical Center.

Another woman from Burnet tells KXAN she’s dealing with staph infection in both legs after wading in the water at Blue Hole in Liberty Hill. And another man says he ended up in the emergency room with an infection in his eyes after swimming at the popular Blue Hole Park in Georgetown.

“Seeing the reports around here I definitely think there’s a connection between being in the water and what [Dylan] went through,” said Heeneman.

She would like to see the water tested, but multiple agencies tell KXAN they are not doing any water testing right now.

Those agencies include:

  • Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
  • Williamson County and Cities Health Department
  • Texas Department of State Health Services

Investigations are triggered by complaints, and so far a TCEQ spokesman says only one complaint has been filed with the agency regarding water quality. It was filed on June 23 for the Blue Hole in Liberty Hill near County Road 279 and Bagdad Road.

Faye Mao tells KXAN she filed the complaint after her daughter contracted a staph infection in both legs after wading in the water. As of Tuesday afternoon, the agency said it was still trying get back in touch with her to get more information, but Mao says no one from TCEQ has tried to reach out.

That location is upstream from the Liberty Hill Wastewater Treatment Plant, but some people are asking if the infections could be tied to violations at the facility KXAN reported on in May. The city was cited for releasing only partially treated wastewater into the river.

Liberty Hill Mayor Rick Hall says the city’s weekly water testing results at the outflow point along the river — which is four miles downstream from the Liberty Hill Blue Hole swimming hole — shows no problems since March.

Hall also pointed out that natural bodies of water are always going to carry bacteria which can get worse after a lot of rain.

The Williamson County and Cities Health Department has not put out any alerts about health concerns with San Gabriel River, but it did add information to its website Monday about recreational water illnesses.

The WCCHS Public Information Officer Deb Strahler said it was a response to local media calling and asking about the infections and water quality.

According to media relations specialist Brian McGovern with TCEQ, local jurisdictions may voluntarily provide public notice or closure based on water quality at high recreational-use swimming areas. McGovern said these actions occur at the discretion of local managers of aquatic recreation, and may be conducted in coordination with local and state public health entities such as county health districts and the Texas Department of State Health Services.

He went on to say natural bodies of water, especially warm and stagnant water, may contain organisms that can cause illness in people, however, risk of illness can be different from person to person and should be considered during any season. Recreation in surface waters tends to increase during the summer months.

But Heeneman, who hopes an agency decides to test the water at popular swimming holes along the San Gabriel, has a warning.

“Until things calm down a little bit people should be really cautious getting in the water.”

The WCCHD encourages anyone who has experience health issues in the river to contact them here.

Williamson County and Cities Health District Administrative Offices
355 Texas Avenue
Round Rock, TX 78664
(512) 943-3600

Reportable Conditions: (512) 943-3660
After-Hours Emergency Contact: (512) 864-8345

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