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Microb Ecol. 2013 May;65(4):1039-51. doi: 10.1007/s00248-013-0216-1. Epub 2013 Apr 4.

Human-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus from a subtropical recreational marine beach.

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Department of Pediatrics, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, 1600 NW 10th Ave, Miami, FL 33136, USA.


Reports of Staphylococcus aureus including methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) detected in marine environments have occurred since the early 1990 s. This investigation sought to isolate and characterize S. aureus from marine waters and sand at a subtropical recreational beach, with and without bathers present, in order to investigate possible sources and to identify the risks to bathers of exposure to these organisms. During 40 days over 17 months, 1,001 water and 36 intertidal sand samples were collected by either bathers or investigators at a subtropical recreational beach. Methicillin-sensitive S. aureus (MSSA) and MRSA were isolated and identified using selective growth media and an organism-specific molecular marker. Antimicrobial susceptibility, staphylococcal cassette chromosome mec (SCCmec) type, pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern, multi-locus sequence type (MLST), and staphylococcal protein A (spa) type were characterized for all MRSA. S. aureus was isolated from 248 (37 %) bather nearby water samples at a concentration range of <2-780 colony forming units per ml, 102 (31 %) ambient water samples at a concentration range of <2-260 colony forming units per ml, and 9 (25 %) sand samples. Within the sand environment, S. aureus was isolated more often from above the intertidal zone than from intermittently wet or inundated sand. A total of 1334 MSSA were isolated from 37 sampling days and 22 MRSA were isolated from ten sampling days. Seventeen of the 22 MRSA were identified by PFGE as the community-associated MRSA USA300. MRSA isolates were all SCCmec type IVa, encompassed five spa types (t008, t064, t622, t688, and t723), two MLST types (ST8 and ST5), and 21 of 22 isolates carried the genes for Panton-Valentine leukocidin. There was a correlation (r = 0.45; p = 0.05) between the daily average number of bathers and S. aureus in the water; however, no association between exposure to S. aureus in these waters and reported illness was found. This report supports the concept that humans are a potential direct source for S. aureus in marine waters.

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