GREAT RIVER, Long Island (PIX11) — It’s a potentially deadly microorganism that can enter a person’s bloodstream in the water during a day at the beach. Healthcare officials don’t want people to be fearful of the flesh-eating bacterium that’s in some waters in coastal areas of the tri-state region.

At the same time, however, Dr. Gregson Pigott, the health commissioner for Suffolk County, Long Island, described the bacterium one way. 

“That is pretty scary,” he said in an interview. 

Pigott said he understands why hearing about the flesh-eating microscopic life forms can spark fear. Still, he added, keeping people informed about the bacteria helps to keep the fears to a minimum.

His health department is trying to ensure that residents are aware of the potential danger to minimize it. 

“This bacteria [is] called vibrio vulnificus,” Pigott said. “It causes widespread bacterial infiltration into your bloodstream…If you have a leg wound, it can gnaw away — what they call flesh-eating.”

The health department confirmed that a 55-year-old man in Brookhaven died this summer from the effects of contracting the bacteria. The man had a leg wound and an underlying health condition.

Also this summer, according to Connecticut health officials, two people swimming in Long Island Sound from beaches on its Connecticut shores died after the bacteria entered their bloodstreams, probably through cuts or wounds. They also confirmed that another Connecticut resident died from consuming raw shellfish containing the vibrio vulnificus bacteria. 

While it is in coastal waters, said Pigott, it’s only in particular locations.

“It’s in water that you call brackish,” the commissioner explained, “where fresh water [from] streams, rivers, meet ocean water.”

That can potentially include parts of Northport Harbor, where PIX11 News encountered a group of women talking about the bacteria while they sunned themselves during a family outing on Monday.

“My phone tracks where I go,” said Kelly Grace, about why the bacteria and its potential danger were on her mind. “It knows I’m here, so it started telling me all these stories.”

Most of the group members said that the potential presence of the bacteria was not going to stop them from getting into the water. 

“Three out of how many million people have been in this water,” said Christina Treccariche, referring to the people who had apparently contracted the illness from exposure to the bacteria while swimming in or near Long Island Sound. “I’ll take my chances.” 

She and most of the members of her party are medical professionals. They said they’re aware of some basic facts about vibrio vulnificus that the health commissioner also pointed out. 

Few people are at great risk, Pigott said, although he mentioned that the bacteria can enter the bloodstream through cuts or bruises a person who enters brackish water may have. It can also harm a person if they ingest the bacteria, through raw shellfish, for example. 

Still, the health commissioner continued, the risk for most people is very low. It most strongly affects people over the age of 55, he said. 

“It’s really folks with chronic liver disease or some kind of immunocompromising condition that need to be concerned about” the situation, he said. “Otherwise, enjoy your summer.”