MRSA ‘Superbug’ Discovered at Beaches & Ocean

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A day at the beach could be hazardous to your health. University of Washington researchers have discovered methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) ‘superbug’ in Puget Sound’s marine water and sand from seven public beaches.

This was a first for the scientists who identified Staph bacteria on nine of ten tested public beaches. Seven of 13 Staph aureus samples on five beaches were multidrug resistant according to Marilyn Roberts, lead investigator.

“Our results suggest that public beaches may be a reservoir for possible transmission of MRSA,” she recently told the San Francisco Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, the prestigious international conference on new and resurgent diseases.

Hospitals were originally the source of most multidrug-resistant Staph infections until about ten years ago. Now a resilient stubborn strain has emerged which attacks even healthy people—usually their soft tissue and skin.

Roughly 30% of well people carry Staph aureus but most can survive infection. Unfortunately, 40% who develop MRSA pneumonia die, as do 20% who contract MRSA bloodstream infections. It is also lethal for some suffering from severe influenza, including the new ‘swine flu’ (H1N1).

Expensive vancomycin is presently the best available drug for MRSA although it takes a long time to vanquish the infection. Henry Chambers of San Francisco’s University of California likens it to ‘trying to turn around an ocean liner.’

Strangely, five beach and sand samples closely resembled hospital acquired MRSA instead of bacteria found in the general public. Three beach samples ten miles apart were identical, Ms. Roberts said. “One would think they came from the same source.” She continued, “Where all of these organisms are coming from and how they’re getting seeded (on the beaches) is not clear”. Speculation is that the source is environmental, not human.

Ocean water and sand from two Southern California beaches were free of Staph aureus. Perhaps Puget Sound beaches and others represent a thriving ‘ecosystem’ for bacteria to mix and interchange genes, especially those that are antibiotic resistant.

Roberts lamented, “The fact that we found these organisms suggests that the amount is much higher than we previously thought”.

Apparently, there is more MRSA in our water. A few months ago, Dr. Lisa Plano, a microbiologist at the University of Miami, found 37% of swimmers at a South Florida beach emerged dripping water containing staph…of which 3% was MRSA. Dr. Plano thought the staph possibly washed off other swimmers but her study suggested that tropical waters could help spread the germ.

Swim anyone?