Gone Fishing

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Twenty-three-year-old Brian Bramlett spent his days working as a deckhand on a boat docked at the Captain Anderson's Marina until a couple months ago when a severe infection kept him from work.

"Well, it started out like a boil, and I went to the doctor and they immediately diagnosed it as a bug bite. They gave me some antibiotics and sent me home," says Brian.

When the antibiotics didn't work and the boils continued to rise under his skin, he went to the hospital where it was diagnosed as MRSA, a common type of staph infection, but he's not the only one. In fact, Bramlett says his sister and at least a dozen others from Captain Anderson's Marina and the Treasure Ship Marina on Panama City Beach have also been infected.

Andrew David, a research fishery biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says one person could have infected all the others.

"It could easily be a sole source that contracted it, spread it to friends and acquaintances, certainly unknowingly. They would have it and be able to spread it before any symptoms might show up."

MRSA is a bacteria that could have been carried on the outside of a fish or even in the water. According to the Centers for Disease Control, when one person becomes infected they can easily infect several others through direct contact.

"It's not through the air. It's usually from direct physical contact, so if someone has it and they shared a towel with someone else who didn't have it, they could pass it that way."

Not everyone who comes in contact with MRSA will become infected. Some people's immune system will fight it better, but precaution while fishing and practicing very good hygiene can prevent infection.

If you have had contact with an infected person or have noticed boils after a fishing trip, check with your doctor to make sure you aren't infected as well.

You do not need to worry about eating local fish because of MRSA. The bacteria dies when the fish is iced, cleaned or cooked.

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MRSA - Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus

What is Staphylococcus aureus?
Staphylococcus aureus, often referred to simply as "staph," are bacteria commonly carried on the skin or in the nose of healthy people. Occasionally, staph can cause an infection; staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infections in the United States. Most of these infections are minor (such as pimples and boils) and most can be treated without antibiotics (also known as antimicrobials or antibacterials). However, staph bacteria can also cause serious infections (such as surgical wound infections and pneumonia). In the past, most serious staph bacteria infections were treated with a certain type of antibiotic related to penicillin. Over the past 50 years, treatment of these infections has become more difficult because staph bacteria have become resistant to various antibiotics, including the commonly used penicillin-related antibiotics (1). These resistant bacteria are called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

Where are staph and MRSA found?
Staph bacteria and MRSA can be found on the skin and in the nose of some people without causing illness.

How common is staph and MRSA?
Staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infection in the United States, and are a common cause of pneumonia and bloodstream infections. Staph and MRSA infections are not routinely reported to public health authorities, so a precise number is not known. According to some estimates, as many as 100,000 persons are hospitalized each year with MRSA infections, although only a small proportion of these persons have disease onset occurring in the community. Approximately 25 to 30% of the population is colonized in the nose with staph bacteria at a given time (2). The numbers who are colonized with MRSA at any one time is not known. CDC is currently collaborating with state and local health departments to improve surveillance for MRSA. Active, population-based surveillance in selected regions of the United States is ongoing and will help characterize the scope and risk factors for MRSA in the community.

Are staph and MRSA infections treatable?
Yes. Most staph bacteria and MRSA are susceptible to several antibiotics. Furthermore, most staph skin infections can be treated without antibiotics by draining the sore. However, if antibiotics are prescribed, patients should complete the full course and call their doctors if the infection does not get better. Patients who are only colonized with staph bacteria or MRSA usually do not need treatment.

How are staph and MRSA spread?
Staph bacteria and MRSA can spread among people having close contact with infected people. MRSA is almost always spread by direct physical contact, and not through the air. Spread may also occur through indirect contact by touching objects (i.e., towels, sheets, wound dressings, clothes, workout areas, sports equipment) contaminated by the infected skin of a person with MRSA or staph bacteria.

How can I prevent staph or MRSA infections?

Practice good hygiene:

  1. Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water.

  2. Keep cuts and abrasions clean and covered with a proper dressing (e.g., bandage) until healed.

  3. Avoid contact with other people’s wounds or material contaminated from wounds.

See your health care provider if you think you are infected.

Source: Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov)