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"Recent cases of flesh-eating bacterial infections have made headlines, yet you’re far more likely to wind up with nausea, diarrhea, or a respiratory infection after a trip to the beach. Researchers estimate bacteria in the waterways cause more than 90 million cases of stomach, respiratory, ear, eye, and skin-related illnesses every year in the U.S., while fewer than 1,500 cases of necrotizing fasciitis (aka flesh-eating bacteria) happen here annually, from any cause.
“Fecal matter, like from sewage discharge, is responsible for a lot of the pollution,” says Mark Mattson, president of Swim Drink Fish, an organization that promotes safe water. “After it rains, urban beaches are often contaminated from the runoff. And in rural areas, it’s agricultural pollution.”