What if a fun trip to the beach meant you’d be exposed to MRSA? As recently reported by USA TODAY, researchers have identified this antibiotic-resistant MRSA superbug on five beaches in Washington State. Though more research is needed to determine the exact source of the identified bacteria, public beaches in general could be a harboring spot for this superbug, according to the study’s lead investigator. Yikes!

MRSA is being discovered in more places than we’ve seen in the past, both inside and outside of hospital settings. In March the New York Times reported on a study that found MRSA in 49 percent of pigs and 45 percent of pig farmers from two different production systems in Iowa and Illinois.

According to the CDC,
over 94,000 people developed a serious MRSA infection in 2005, and approximately 18,650 of those people died (more than AIDS). 85 percent of all serious MRSA infections were acquired while people were receiving health care, and data suggests that MRSA infections are on the rise. 14 percent of serious MRSA infections affect people who haven’t been hospitalized nor had a medical procedure within the last year.

If you’re worried about exposing yourself or your family to MRSA at the beach, Marilyn Roberts, PhD, recommends the following tipsfor lowering your risk of infection:

  • Make sure you get all the sand off when you get out of the water. Digging and being buried in the sand appear to raise the risk of infection.
  • Clean and bandage any open cuts or scrapes before playing in the sand.
  • If a scrape looks infected a few days after a trip to the beach, see a health care professional right away.

These are pretty commonsense hygiene practices that could save your life. If you experience signs and symptoms of MRSA infection and need to seek medical attention, let your health care provider know that you are concerned about MRSA prevalence in health care settings. Ask your doctor or medical staff what kind of MRSA screening and prevention programs they have in place, especially if you are scheduled for surgery. Many people are “colonized” with MRSA but have no infections or other symptoms. Clearing your body of the bug prior to surgery can reduce your chances of getting an infection while in the hospital. Out of the twenty-six states that have hospital infection public reporting laws, only four states have MRSA screening requirements (CA, IL, NJ, PA).