Just when you thought it was safe…
A new menacing hazard—bacteria—may be lurking in the water at your local beach. Although they are invisible to the naked eye, these bacteria can be vicious.
According to this year’s report card from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on the safety of more than 3,000 U.S. beaches, “there’s a silent and invisible danger” putting swimmers at risk of a number of bacterial and viral illnesses.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 3.5 million people become ill from contact with raw sewage in beach water every year. Beach water pollution can cause skin rashes, pink eye, hepatitis, neurological disorders, gastrointestinal problems, ear, nose and throat issues and respiratory ailments.
And, probably the most concerning of all, is the increasing presence of MRSA in ocean water.
MRSA (short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria linked to deadly infections. It’s one of several bacteria collectively known as “superbugs” that first gathered publicity in the 1990s with a rise in hospital deaths from infections.
Research in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports more than 50 deaths per day from MRSA infections. Like most staph bacteria on the skin, MRSA appears as a red bump that is swollen, painful, and warm to the touch.
Once the bacteria gets under the skin, it can cause an abscess filled with pus in less than a day. While the infection usually stays near the surface, about 6 percent of MRSA infections become invasive, entering the bloodstream and attacking soft tissues.
In the last ten years this superbug has moved beyond hospitals to schools, locker rooms, day care centers, salons, and most recently to the beach.
In the largest epidemiological study of its kind—a South Florida study of 1,300 adult bathers who collected ocean water—a whopping 37 percent of the samples contained Staphylococcus aureus. And 3 percent had the antibiotic-resistant strain of this superbug. Perhaps most alarming, research also showed that staph bacteria can spread in beach sand!
The MRSA bacteria in this study “looked like they were likely to cause aggressive infections,” according to Lisa Plano, MD, PhD, associate professor of clinical pediatrics and microbiology and immunology at the University of Miami.
But she doesn’t tell people not to go in the water. Just be sure to make sure you shower well both before and after going to the beach. And don’t go in the water if you have a cut.
When it comes to the “new” germ warfare, your best defense is a strong offense. Since your gut is your second immune system, it only makes sense to fortify your GI tract against pathogens of all types.
First off, defend your system with probiotics, the “good bacteria.” Foods, like yogurt with live, active cultures and sauerkraut, are a decent source of these friendly flora.
While these probiotic foods provide CFUs (colony forming units) in the millions, many of us need supplements that provide CFUS in the billions to fend off these new, college-educated invaders. My favorite: UNI KEY’s Flora-Key, a 5-strain probiotic formula containing 10 billion beneficial bacteria per serving.
Equally important since probiotics are living organisms, they need to be well fed. So rev up your reserves with two servings of prebiotic foods like onions, garlic, oregano, leeks, and jicama to keep the probiotics alive and thriving.