MRSA goes to the beach


Dr. Tara Smith’s research group from Kent State’s College of Public Health spent two summers on a MRSA hunt at a place rarely checked for the bug – the beach.

From April to September in 2014 and 2015, Smith’s group collected a combined 280 sand and water samples from 10 freshwater beaches that lie on the shores of Lake Erie in Northeast Ohio. They were looking for Staphylococcus aureus and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and found a higher-than-expected prevalence for both: Staph aureus was found in 64 sand and water samples (23 percent) and MRSA in 23 samples (8 percent). Most of the bugs were found in June and July when it’s the hottest and most humid.

Smith’s findings matter because with all that exposed skin minor cuts easily occur. And that’s all the opportunity Staph needs to turn a non-event into a severe or life-threatening illness such as sepsis or endocarditis. As Dr. Smith’s paper reminds us, “roughly 11,000 people every year in the United States die of staph and MRSA-related disease, while the bacteria cause another 80,000 invasive infections and millions of skin and soft-tissue infections.”

Here’s the good news: “Simply using the showers that many beaches provide to rinse off after being on the beach or in the water can help you avoid carrying that bacteria home with you,” Smith says.

And for those lucky enough to have a backyard pool: Although Staph and MRSA are able to survive for extended periods of time in freshwater (and seawater), “they are killed within 24 h in properly chlorinated pool water.”

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