Most people know that a good place to pick up an antibiotic resistant infection is in a hospital. Lots of pathogenic bugs there living (often) happily in a sea of antimicrobial agents. Better to stay away from hospitals, somewhere nice. But apparently, not at the beach:
A drug-resistant germ linked to surgical wound and urinary tract infections was found on five U.S. West Coast beaches, according to scientists who said the bacteria isn’t usually seen outside of hospitals.
Samples of sand and water were taken from seven public beaches and a fishing pier in the state of Washington and southern California, according to a study reported today at a meeting of infectious diseases doctors in the nation’s capitol. While the level of public risk is unknown, the beaches may help transmit the germ called enterococci, study authors said. (Elizabeth Lopatto, Bloomberg)
The enterococci are not the feared methicillin resistant Staph aureus (MRSA), but like Staph , the enterococci are also common colonizers of the human intestinal tract and female genital tract. Still, they sometimes cause infections, and when they do Vancomycin is the drug of choice. Like MRSA, too, these vancomycin resistant enterococci (VRE) have been almost entirely confined to the hospital environment (about one in 8 hospital acquired infections are from enterococci and 30% of these are VRE). This report suggests that VRE are following MRSA in moving into the community environment. While the most at risk are those with impaired immune systems or chronic medical conditions, we can expect cases of otherwise healthy people to be infected with VRE in the community.
There are other drugs that can be used to treat enterococcal infections but the existence of VRE means that treatment may be delayed because a course of Vancomycin is tried first. So this isn’t a looming catastrophe, in and of itself. What it is, is a red flag about the spread of antibiotic resistant organisms into the general environment. How these bugs got to the beaches is something that needs examination, but sewage is a likely suspect.
Meanwhile, have fun at the beach. Try not to think about it.