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The Transmission of MRSA Infections Via Swimming Pools

written by: N Nayab • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 2/23/2011

Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a bacterial infection that makes headline news owing to its resistance to some antibiotics. Whether MRSA infections spread via swimming pools is a topic of much debate. Read on to find out the association of MRSA inflections and swimming pool.

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    MRSA Infections and Swimming Pools Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a common bacteria found in the skin and nasal passages of healthy people. Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), one strain of this bacterium manifests as red and swollen patches in the skin, or as skin abscess. When people do not take the full course of prescribed antibiotics for S.aureus or takes multiple courses of antibiotics for the wrong reason, the germs in the body develop a resistance against antibiotics which can cause MRSA.

    MRSA enters the body through cuts, sores, catheters or breathing tubes, and generally cause minor and local infections such as pimples. It can also cause fever and serious heart, lung, blood or bone infections.

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    Causes

    MRSA inflections spread by physical skin-to-skin contact, through openings in the skin such as cuts and abrasions, and by sharing contaminated equipment or personal items, such as towels and razors. People with MRSA become contagious only when they have open wounds and sores.

    MRSA infections primarily occur among those hospitalized or who have visited hospitals or other health-care facilities within the past year. Of late, an increasing number of people who have never been to a hospital have started experiencing MRSA. Such community-acquired MRSA generally occurs when people touch other people with the infection. People traveling or living in crowded conditions, and children in schools and day care center remain at high risk for this type of MRSA.

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    MRSA Infections and Swimming Pools

    The relation of MRSA infections and swimming pools is a topic of much debate.

    MRSA can transmit via the water in a swimming pool. An infected person with an open wound or sore uses the pool and contaminates the water, leading to other swimmers getting the inflection. MRSA also spreads through the use of common towels and by the person touching common areas such as locker room floors and benches, which may be contaminated by an infected person.A study by Berger et. al in 2004 implicates contaminated whirlpool water as a route of transmission of MRSA to members of a college football team.

    Chlorine kills MRSA, and as such, the risk of MRSA spreading through a properly disinfected swimming pool remains remote. A 2007 study by Tolba, et al., entitled “Survival of epidemic strains of healthcare (HA-MRSA) and community-associated (CA-MRSA) meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)” published in International Journal of Hygiene Environmental Health (doi:10.1016/j.ijheh.2007.06.003) shows that MRSA does not survive in swimming pools with a free chlorine concentration of 2.90 ppm.

    Swimming in chlorinated swimming pools or ocean-water for 30 days is actually one recommended way of preventing MRSA infection.

    MRSA can still spread through chlorinated swimming pool in communal usage such as sports team setting, when a person comes into physical contact with another MRSA infected person in the pool. The safest precaution therefore is preventing entry of people with sores or wounds to the swimming pool.

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    Prevention

    The best MRSA infection prevention tip is maintaining personal hygiene. This requires washing hands frequently, not sharing personal items such as towels and razors with others, covering all wounds with a clean bandage and avoiding contact with other people’s soiled bandages, and cleaning common sports and other equipment with antiseptic before use.

    For MRSA infections and swimming pools, clean common facilities, and all users following basic hygiene such as dressing wounds properly and showering before entering the pool help prevent the spread of MRSA.

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    References

    1. University of Maryland Medical Center. “MRSA.” http://www.umm.edu/ency/article/007261.htm. Retrieved 14 February 2011.
    2. Net Wellness. “Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA)” http://www.netwellness.uc.edu/healthtopics/infectiousdisease/mrsa.cfm. Retrieved 14 February 2011.
    3. Chang,Christopher, Y. “MRSA Infections.” http://www.fauquierent.net/mrsa.htm Retrieved 14 February 2011.
    4. The Aquatic Therapist. “So Your Patient has MRSA: Can it be Transmitted in a Pool?” http://www.aquatictherapist.com/index/2009/09/so-your-patient-has-mrsa-can-it-be-transmitted-in-a-pool.html. Retrieved 14 February 2011.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons