by: Lorena Incl\u00E1n Updated:
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Jacksonville University students have a huge assignment ahead of them that could potentially uncover public health concerns -- whether or not the St. Johns River is a hotbed for a deadly bacteria.
Using a pontoon boat, Professor Andy Ouellette is leading a class of three students out on the St. Johns River.
This week, they've collected samples to be tested for the presence of a bacteria called vibrio.
"Vibrio parahaemolyticus causes the most bacterial diarrhea that's seafood-related in Florida whereas vibrio vulnificus causes the most deaths from seafood related illnesses," said Ouellette.
According to Ouellette, vibrio vulnificus is the strain commonly known as the flesh-eating bacteria. The people most at risk of getting it are those with weak immune systems.
"It's pretty much been constant for the last three or four years in the state of Florida -- we've had 30 to 40 vibrio vulnificus infections and nine to 13 deaths," said Ouellette.
Those statistics are the driving force behind the research. Ouellette said the project is twofold; it's an opportunity for his students to practice research methods while possibly uncovering a potentially dangerous bacteria in our waterway. But Ouellette said there's no need to be concerned for now.
"If you're immune compromised, you have open sores, it's best to stay out of the river. If you're a healthy young individual I would not have a problem with getting in the river myself," said Ouellette.
Next week, the students will extract DNA from the samples they collected. They hope to have results back by Thursday.