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Environmental Public Health Main Menu
Environmental Public Health - Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
Ocean Water & Fishermen - Click on each link below for more information
The ocean is not a sterile environment. It is an ecosystem of living organisms, doing what living organisms do, including relieving themselves. If you walk outside and pick up a handful of dirt, bacteria will be present; including some that may be harmful. The ocean similarly has bacteria in it. The Volusia County Health Department tests the beach water each week to ensure that bacteria levels from the intestinal tracts of warm-blooded animals, including humans, are below the levels associated with disease transmission. When the health department testing finds the bacteria levels in the good range, it doesn’t mean that bacteria are non-existent. It means that the bacterial levels are below the level that should cause disease.
There are several reasons the health department is not testing for ocean staphylococcus:
- 1. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) MRSA website, there are no certified sampling or laboratory testing procedures for staphylococcus in marine environments.
- 2. According to CDC, there are no standards or recommended levels for staphylococcus. For example, if the level came back from the laboratory as 200 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters of water, it would tell us nothing about whether the water is safe for swimming.
- 3. It is already assumed that staphylococcus is in the water, but most people without wounds or open sores or without compromised immune systems will not be affected. It is also assumed that shigella and other organisms are in the water, just not in concentrations to produce disease.
- 4. What little research has been published on staphylococcus in marine waters advises that enterococcus testing (which is already being done weekly) correlates well with levels of staphylococcus. Thus, if enterococcus levels are low, staphylococcus levels should be low. Most of the time, neither of them will be at a level of zero.
- 5. When investigating alleged disease outbreaks, potential environmental testing should be driven by the epidemiological data (time, place, person) and linking the results to laboratory results from humans. In this case there is no evidence that cases have a history of exposure in the same waters, harbor, or beach, and there are no human culture samples linking them to each other or to an environmental exposure.
As long as residents heed health department advisories, don’t swim with open sores or wounds, and follow proper personal hygiene, swimming in the ocean should not be any higher risk than being on land (from a bacteriological standpoint).
There are few regulations designed to prevent disease in fishermen. The United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and the United States Coast Guard have some standard language relating to reporting issues (46CFR28.165 and 46USC10603), but protecting yourself from disease is your responsibility. Historically, the issues of hygiene take a back seat to the issues of safety. Seamen have so many potential threats to their safety; sanitation and hygiene have remained below your radar so to speak.
In 1999 the International Labour Organization (ILO) collected and analyzed views and information from the international maritime medical community concerning health and safety issues in the fishing sector. “The results indicated that the most frequent work-related injuries in fishermen were: superficial injuries, effects of weather and exposure, injuries to the musculoskeletal system, contusions and crushing injuries, and near drowning. Drowning was a leading cause of death among fishermen.”
The ILO survey further stated “Some diseases are specific to fishermen, such as salt-water boils, allergic reactions to cuttlefish and weeds, fish erysipeloid, acute tenosynovitis of the wrist, conjunctivitis and poisonous fish stings of certain fish in the warm waters of the tropics and subtropics.”
With so much potential for cuts and wounds to the skin, first aid and personal hygiene are of utmost importance. While cuts and wounds may be common, infections from them are preventable. See the section covering Treatment.
Page last updated: 09/13/11