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MRSA, a super-resistant germ, hits the beach

  • 13 September 2009
  • Written by 
  • Published in Health
A University of Washington study has found the bacterium Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, in marine water and beach sand on the coast of Washington and California—the first time the superbug has ever been discovered on beaches.


MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is a multi-resistant strain of Staphyloccus aureus, which is a common bug (bacterium) that can cause serious infections.

The particular strain of Staphylococcus aureus, MRSA, is especially dangerous because it is highly resistant to a large number of antibiotics, such as penicillins.

MRSA, also called multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or oxacillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (ORSA), is normally found in hospitals, gym lockers, homes, and other such common places.

It spreads from skin-to-skin contact in all people (healthy or sick, it doesn’t matter) when someone comes in contact with a surface contaminated with the nasty bug and they pass it on to someone else with a handshake, casual touch, or other such means.

People with the MRSA infection are usually isolated in hospitals. Visitors wear gowns, masks, and gloves when seeing such patients.

In the past, MRSA has never been found on beaches in the United States or in its waters. Until now, that is.

Marilyn C. Roberts, a microbiologist at the University of Washington (Seattle), states, "This is the first report of MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) from marine water and inertial beach sand." [AFP: "Beaches pose super-bug risk: study"]

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Dr. Roberts, a co-author of a study that analyzed beach water and sand for MRSA, reported her findings during a Saturday, September 12, 2009 press conference at the 49th annual Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agency and Chemotherapy (ICAAC).

The ICAAC meeting, held September 12-15, 2009, in San Francisco, California (U.S.A.), is highlighting infectious diseases.

MRSA was found on five of ten public beaches that were analyzed along the coast of Washington and California between the months of February and September in 2008.

The MRSA stain was found only in Washington, not California, but such results do not rule out that the resistant germ is not already present in the California beaches, too.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), the ordinary strain, was found on nine out of the ten beaches (including one of the two California beaches studied). All of the strains were found more frequently in the sand than in the water.

Because the MRSA strain was found on public beaches, the researchers state that such a finding could make it much more difficult for the medical community to contain the bacterium, and thus making the germ much easier to spread among humans.

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Dr. Roberts states, "We do not know the risk for any particular beach, but the fact that we found these organisms suggests that the level is much higher than we had thought." [AFP]

She adds, "I am not telling people not to go to the beach…." However, "Hygiene is always important and make sure you get all the sand off ... and cover cuts and bruises on the skin.”

A 2007 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that MRSA infections in U.S. hospitals doubled between 1999 and 2005, going from 127,000 to 278,000. [CDC: "Hospitalizations and Deaths Caused by Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus, United States, 1999–2005"]

Another CDC-led study, also in 2007, showed that MRSA was responsible for 94,360 serious infections in the United States in 2005 and that 18,650 of those infections resulted in death while being treated in hospitals. [CDC: “MRSA: Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in Healthcare Settings”]

For additional information on MRSA, please read the WebMD article “Understanding MRSA (Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus).”

Also, take a look at the CDC article “Overview of Healthcare-associated MRSA.”

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