GULF OF MEXICO (WLOX) - As summer kicks into high gear and temperatures continue to rise, water contact advisories become more common on beaches along the Gulf Coast.
Several factors, including warmer water temperatures, storm water runoff and sewer overflow, can lead to increased concentrations of harmful bacteria. Health officials say the bacteria can cause disease, infections and rashes.
With the Fourth of July weekend just days away, tourists from Texas to Florida are concerned about the water quality in the Gulf of Mexico.
Beach vendors and others who rely on tourism dollars say visitors are asking questions about the safety of the water.
"They do have some concerns about water quality. They'll ask if there's bacteria in the water," said beach vendor Maverick O'Neal. "Is it going to affect my children, and are we going to be able to swim? I tell everyone it's fine. I'm out here every day, and it hasn't given me any problems"
"There's probably enough concern out there, enough germophobes worried about such things. It doesn't affect me personally," said tourist David Anderson.
State health departments in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas maintain lists of water contact advisories so you know what swimming spots are safe and what areas to avoid.
An advisory does not mean the beach is closed, but you should be aware before you get in the water that bacteria levels in the area are higher than normal.
Before you hit the water at any beach, be sure to check for signs and flags warning of beach closures, dangerous water conditions or the presence of marine life.
Find more information about water contact advisories along the Gulf Coast here: