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February 16th, 2009
12:51 PM ET

MRSA on the beach?

By Elizabeth Landau
Writer/Producer
CNN.com Health

Next time you go to the beach, you might want to shower - before you get in the ocean as well as after, says Dr. Lisa Plano, associate professor of clinical pediatrics and microbiology and immunology at the University of Miami.

A study she collaborated on shows that a person’s risk of exposure to staph is about 37 percent – but note that the bacteria could have come from you or from someone else. Your chance of getting MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a form of antibiotic resistant staph, is about 1 percent.

Plano presented her research, conducted in subtropical marine waters, at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago, Illinois, over the weekend. The study, which is the first large epidemiological study of its kind, looked at 1,300 people.

Preliminary data suggest that the number of people in the water increases number of bacteria in the water, she said.

The MRSA found in the study “looked like they were likely to cause aggressive infections, in the family of community-associated MRSA,” she said. The other staph, on the other hand, looked benign and unlikely to cause infections.

“We have to conclude that the beach could be a source for community-acquired staph infections,” Plano said.

MRSA has been around in hospital settings since the 1970s, but community-associated MRSA didn’t emerge until the late 1990s. Now, it is a recognized problem in situations where people come into close contact with one another's skin, such as in professional sports, as I reported in October. (read article)

But the researchers in this study could not make a link between the exposure to staph in the water and any illness in the participants, she said. While some people did have complaints, the data were not strong enough to draw a connection.

Still, while not wanting to scare anyone, Plano recommends that people shower before entering the water so they won’t spread their own bacteria, and afterwards so that they reduce the number of organisms they picked up.

What about acquiring staph from fish? Plano said she is unaware of a fish source that could transmit staph to humans, as these are largely human-specific bacteria. Note, however, that, cats and dogs can have staph too.

Is getting a staph infection something you think about at the gym or the beach?

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soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Buddesatva

    This article is under-powered on the topic of MRSA. It is not alarmist at this point to say that MRSA as well as necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating bacteria) are in the environment. You don't have to dive to the bottom of the ocean to come up with either. Couple that with indiscriminate antibiotic use, (more properly misuse) and you have the disaster we are living in. Anti-bacterial soaps are a very, very and let me add very BAD idea. You don’t kill germs when you wash your hands. You flush them off. Do Not use or buy anything with Anti-Bacterial agents. The result is that we are making the germs stronger and more resistant to the medicines that we have. Penicillin is no longer affective because we have over prescribed it and poorly used it. This article barely grazes the surface of a serious problem that threatens the health of every person on the planet.

    February 17, 2009 at 13:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Joan Scroggs

    Dr. Gupta Re MRSA I watched a TV programme last eveing RE Manuka Honey from NewZealand. Doctors there are using this Honey on Patients with MRSA and are very pleased with results. You might find trhis interesting Thanks Joan

    February 18, 2009 at 12:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. BS in Bio

    Every soap is antibacterial whether it contains Triclosan (the ingredient usually touted as ANTIBACTERIAL) or not, I don't know where you're getting this stuff about just washing them off. The soap molecules insert into the bacterial membrane and solubilize it into little micelles and basically rip it to shreds. The problem with soaps is that people don't wash their hands for the thirty seconds that are required to kill the little buggers. There is little evidence that resistance to triclosan is emerging and even if it does, there is little reason to believe it will lead to widespread antibiotic resistance.

    As for penicillin resistance, yeah we did mess up the roll out and use of antibiotics. They were (and still are) massively overused and misused and that contributed to bacterial resistance. The important point not to miss is that the genes necessary to avoid killing by penicillin were already present in many populations of microbes, and given the promiscuity of microbial gene transfer (inter-species transfer: scandalous!) microbial resistance to our drugs was inevitable. Microbes were killing each other with antibiotics and finding ways to avoid being killed before there were humans to infect. Expecting that our antibiotics would work forever is downright foolish.

    As for the article well it's far better than most article's written on a marginally scientific subject, but still terribly imprecise. Yeah, we do all have Staphylococcus on our skin. How about some differentiation between benign Staph species and Staph aureus so you don't needlessly scare everyone? Is the 30% chance of exposure to "staph" Staphylococcus aureus or Staphylococcus epidermidis or both? There's a world of difference between the two. And a 1% chance of getting MRSA? Does that mean one in one hundred people who walk into the water are going to come away with Staph aureus on their skin or that one in one hundred locations at any time have MRSA in the water? or 1% of the acquired Staph infections are methicillin resistant? What percent of people who come into contact with the infectious organisms actually end up with an infection? Is there a sufficient concentration of organisms to infect a healthy person?
    How many were Vancomycin resistant? Surely Dr. Plano checked. MRSA isn't a big deal, Vancomycin resistant MRSA in the water is news. I know this isn't Nature or JAMA, but give the public some credit. Maybe if we had a few years of decent science reporting we could actually start telling the great unwashed masses about the interesting things science and medicine are doing. People who find it boring aren't tuning into this blog anyway.
    Science reporting is hard, make sure someone with some actual training in the field is reporting on it (and don't make them dumb it down too much). If you do think something is too complex just link to wikipedia or a reputable source and people might learn something from reading this.

    Cliff notes:
    Don't be lazy and gross: wash your hands for a full 30 seconds.
    Antibiotic resistance is inevitable.
    Teach us something.

    February 19, 2009 at 00:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Christianne Wa

    This is a great article for the mass public as it addresses how MRSA is spread and provides ways for the average beachgoer to take precautions against infection. It raises the general public’s awareness of the issue, which is always a good thing. However, like BS in Bio mentioned earlier, there are some points that do not match up. Specifically, if “your chance of getting MRSA is about 1%,” how likely will you then develop an infection? I am confused because you proceed to write “the researchers in this study could not make a link between the exposure to staph in the water and any illness in the participants.” Does that mean most people will not even develop infections? If that is the case, is the recommendation to shower before and after entering the water legitimate? The data “suggest that the number of people in the water increases number of bacteria in the water,” but does that warrant a title that may scare the reader? I understand that this is the “first large epidemiological study of its kind” but its findings are not very significant. I would like to see the study published in a prestigious scientific journal before drawing any conclusions.

    At the end of your article, you ask whether we think about getting a staph infection at the gym. Perhaps, that would be a better location to focus on, as there are a lot of surfaces for potential contact and transmission from machines and weights, to doorknobs and bathrooms. I, for one, will definitely wash my hands before and after working out at the gym.

    February 23, 2009 at 15:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. keith gerard

    I was recently diagnosed with MRSA. I live in a beach community that has a private beach. I Am still in disbelief that i have contracted MRSA. I consider myself to be extraordinarily clean. I constantly wash my hands . I have always gone way beyond the norm with regard to cleanliness.

    What i would like to read about is how we can de colonize our homes after a family member is being treated for MRSA. It is my understanding that this bacteria can live for 60 days on fabric. What about my mattress? what about my car mats? What about the carpet in my house? How should i wash my dog and or find out if she is infected as well?I have read that pets are a significant risk factor for MRSA. I would love to see Dr Gupta go more in depth on treatments and prevention. Simply suggesting that people wash and shower does not scratch the surface. It certainly did not help me.
    Thank You For the article
    Keith
    Long Island ,New York March 2010

    March 28, 2010 at 11:18 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.