Stab Magazine | Go Surfing, Get MRSA!

Go Surfing, Get MRSA!

Surfers may be overexposed to the antibiotic resistant superbug and UCLA’s trying to learn why. 

news // Oct 1, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 2 minutes

What do you hope for when you go surfing? A little tube? Two or more turns on a single wave? Or maybe even doing something more than a fly-away kick-out?

Well, while most of those are hopelessly futile, going for a surf around California will all but assure one thing. Contracting MRSA!

Or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus if you want to be fancy. 

You might feel as if you’re rinsing off, and might even believe like myself that going for a squirt is a good substitute for having a shower. But based on recent research, a surf off the Californian coastline is plaguing you with more bacteria than were present in the first place. 

Oceans are filled with bacteria, particularly at beaches surrounded by highly populated areas and close to storm water run-offs. 

Megyn Rugh, a UCLA graduate student is conducting a study set to investigate whether surfers are over-exposed to MRSA more than the average, non-surfing individual. On average, one in three people carry the standard Staph bacteria in their noise, and it’s estimated that 2% of the population carry the antibiotic resistant MRSA virus – which is categorised as a “superbug”. 

Blow out a couple boogers for science. Photo: OC Register

This current UCLA study is based on the premise that surfer’s are exposed to these superbugs more than the average joe. 

The first part of the study consisted of testing the waters at 15 Southern California beaches, including Venice Beach, Topanga, and down to San Diego. 

As reported by the OC RegisterVenice was one of the worst beaches containing up to ‘117 colony forming units’, where we should be expecting no bacteria forming units. 

“[Surfers] are a great group because they are in this polluted water, they willingly go in during the rain storms if the surf is good, even if you’re advised to not go in the water,” Megyn told the OC Register, “When you’re surfing, there’s head submerging, sometimes getting water in your nose.”

In addition to testing the surfers for MRSA by swabbing their nose, the study also swabs surfers for VRE, and tests to see whether surfers are carrying antibiotic resistant genes (ARG’s). The study also includes a non-surfing control group, to appropriately compare whether surfers show higher rates of carrying the virus.n

The study also wants to determine what causes the water in these regions to contain larger amounts of these resistant bacteria. Whether that be run-off from livestock farms, fertilizers or even wastewater from hospitals further upstream – ironically a breeding ground for these bacteria. It’s known that periods of heavy rain and run-off increase levels of contamination in the waters, but what the original source of these bacteria are is still unknown. 

Superbugs are one of the main issues facing humanity as far as public health is concerned; so if you’re surfing around Southern California and are approached by a swap-wielding weirdo, let them swap your nostril knowing that it might just help us understand these bacteria a tad more. 

If you want to donate to the under-funded study, then you can head over to their page for more details as well as information on how to pledge a few bucks. 

In the mean time, it might be wise to skip that sewer-laden surf next time you’re considering suiting up during a storm.  


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