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Andrei Pungovschi/AP
Aiki Beach in Seattle

MRSA “Superbug” Found on West Coast Beaches

September 15, 2009 03:30 PM
by Denis Cummings
Drug-resistant staph bacteria similar to the strains found in hospitals have been detected on beaches in Washington state, surprising researchers who believed there was no chance of finding the “superbug” there.

MRSA Found on Half of Beaches Studied

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Researchers found staph bacteria in water and sand samples at nine of the 10 Washington state beaches they studied from February to September 2008. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a drug-resistant strain, was found in five of the beaches.

Staph bacteria “have long been known to be found in sand and salt water,” according to MedPage Today, but researchers were surprised to find drug-resistant bacteria. Researcher Dr. Marilyn Roberts of the University of Washington said the strains “looked more like hospital-acquired MRSA strains than the bacteria typically found in the community.”

MRSA had previously been discovered on a beach in South Florida by a University of Miami study released in February. Though just over 1 percent of water samples taken by bathers contained drug-resistant staph, researcher Lisa Plano described it as “particularly virulent.”

The Washington researchers did not known the source of the MRSA, noting that none of the beaches were near hospitals. The Miami researchers speculated that MRSA was transported to the beach by bathers. Further research is needed to determine whether MRSA can incubate in sand and salt water.

Both teams of researchers say that the beach should not be avoided. They advised beachgoers to take several precautions, such as showering afterwards and bandaging any scrapes.

Background: Staph and MRSA

Staphylococcus aureus is a form of bacteria carried on the skin and the most common type of skin infection. Between 25-30 percent of Americans are colonized (when bacteria are present, but not causing an infection) in the nose or on the skin with staph bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk for a staph infection.

MRSA is a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to methicillin, oxacillin, penicillin and amoxicillin. It is primarily found in hospitals, where it can easily be passed through vulnerable patients, but this decade it has spread to communities, reaching schools, locker rooms, daycare centers and other public areas.
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