Published Nov 1, 2003
Cause for concern.
Anglers suspect water after staph infections
A skin infection has laid up fishermen on both Florida coasts. The exact cause has not been determined.
By CANDACE RONDEAUX, Times Staff Writer
Published October 31, 2003
[Times photo: Douglas Clifford]
Largo resident Brent Perrine, 35, got worried after a dime-sized puncture wound he suffered on a sponge-diving trip turned into a serious staph infection. He became even more worried after hearing that others have come down with similiar infections.
TARPON SPRINGS - Brent Perrine wants to know whether there's something in the water.
Laid up for weeks with a nasty skin infection that put his leg in a brace, Perrine is almost certain there was something wrong with the water he swam in on a recent sponge-diving trip to the Gulf of Mexico.
"I've been diving for almost 20 years, and I've never seen water like that," Perrine said. "It was all yellow."
Back at his home in Largo, Perrine, 35, became worried three weeks ago when a dime-sized puncture he had received while diving in the gulf swelled to a grapefruit-sized boil on his knee. But he became more alarmed when he later learned that nearly a dozen commercial fishermen around the state recently had come down with a similar illness.
"That kind of freaked me out," Perrine said.
Perrine was one of three Tarpon Springs sponge divers who recently reported having a painful skin condition thought to be caused by a methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus infection. Commonly known as MRSA, the drug-resistant strain of bacteria was also found in at least 10 fishermen in Port Orange in Volusia County in recent months.
Bob Jones, executive director of the Southeastern Fisheries Association, a statewide fishing industry group, asked Gov. Jeb Bush for help after receiving dozens of reports about fishermen who had recently contracted staphylococcus aureus. If left untreated, it can also cause life-threatening blood infections.
"I was sort of overwhelmed," Jones said. "Most every place that I called, they knew of instances where a fisherman had come down with staph."
Longtime sponge diver Sunny Sebaugh, 71, came down with a severe rash on his legs and feet after running into a wall of cloudy yellow water that left a burning sensation on his skin during a dive earlier this month. He doesn't know if he had MRSA; he just knows it hurt.
"When my body started stinging I thought, "Okay, get the heck out of this stuff,"' Sebaugh said. The gear sponge divers wear varies; sometimes they dive in shorts and a T-shirt and other times in a traditional wet suit.
Widespread fears that the water is the source of fishermen's illness is probably an overreaction, state health officials say. Staph infections are common, and it is not likely that recent cases represent an outbreak among commercial fishermen.
"It's unlikely that this is in the water," said Florida Department of Health spokeswoman Lindsay Hodges. "But the county health departments, particularly Volusia County, and the state are monitoring the situation to see if there is some link."
Staph infections occur most often in places where people are confined to close quarters, such as a prison or hospital or even a cramped fishing vessel.
MRSA is a strain of staph that is less receptive to treatment with certain antibiotics. The bacteria is often found in the nose or on the skin and can sometimes cause lesions that at first look like spider bites. Staph is spread by touching, especially objects such as towels or sheets. It can infect the bones or blood and result in pneumonia or even death, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site.
Staph and MRSA infections are not regularly reported, but some estimates place the number of people who are hospitalized each year with MRSA infections at 100,000, according to the CDC.
Strains of the bacteria also can be found in animals. State and federal marine experts are testing three grouper with lesions found by Port Orange fishermen. One of those fish was sent to the Florida Marine Research Institute in St. Petersburg for examination, said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Scott Willis.
Willis said it could take several days for scientists at the institute to determine the cause of the lesions. But he reaffirmed other experts' opinions that fish-to-human transmission of staph is virtually impossible.
"Fish can get bacterial infections," Willis said. "But is it possible that this staph is the same strain of staph that's showing up (in humans)? That's highly unlikely."
Pinellas County Health Department officials were not surprised to learn about the Tarpon Springs cases this week. The department receives reports of people infected with staph all the time, said county epidemiology program manager Julia Gill. The county has so far received no new reports this month about other fishermen infected with staph, she said.
"The trends that we are seeing in this area are no different than the trends that we're seeing nationwide," Gill said.
In the meantime, county health experts plan to educate local fishermen and others about the bacteria and its treatment.
"To prevent it, they need to not share towels and bedding and close quarters with anyone," Gill said. "If they do have a pustule or boil, they want to make sure they cover it properly. And, of course, its always important to wash your hands."
Questions & answers about staph infections
What is staphlylococcus aureus?
Usually shortened to staph, staphylococcus aureus bacteria are everywhere, including in the noses or on the skin of healthy people. Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus, or MRSA, is a drug-resistant strain of the same bacteria. Infections often start as a small pimple or boil and can spread to the rest of the body.
How do you get it?
Staph or MRSA are usually spread among people in close physical contact with an infected person. Outbreaks have occurred among athletes who shared a locker room and in hospitals and prisons where towels, sheets, and clothes have become contaminated.
How do you prevent an infection?
Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, clothes, razors and bedding. Wounds or breaks in the skin should be kept clean. Keep all infections, especially those that are pus-filled, covered with clean, dry bandages. Do not lance or cut open any skin infection; it could worsen the infection.
- Source: Pinellas County Health Department; Florida Department of Health
I have a friend who was inviting her daughters LL pals Mom to her home. I show up while she's there. This lady has no less than 200 lesions, some oozing, some crusted, others red hot and edematious. She had been squeezing them and was picking them as we visited. Telling everyone that there is no cause for concern b/c she's on IV Vanco. I ask her about her culture and she says MRSA. I'm floored. My best freind and her lovely family have MRSA walking right into their home!
I warn my freind.
Here it is 5 months later and my best pal has been doing her best to thwart this womans visits. But, her daughter is best freinds with this womans daughter and they are very close. Now, the daughter has a area on her abd that started as looking like a spider bite, is now red hot, painful, and swollen, and Mom's in denial. Has not taken her to the Doc. Mom's still on IV Vanco and has not rid of the MRSA. Mom's also popping the "boil". I'm so worried. I'll keep my family away as much as possible.
These people live in the same area as the anglers in the above article but are not fisherman. The cause/source of the original MRSA is unknown.
Just thought you'd like to know that MRSA has unleashed itself into the community.
Originally posted by flowerchild I have a friend who was inviting her daughters LL pals Mom to her home. I show up while she's there. This lady has no less than 200 lesions, some oozing, some crusted, others red hot and edematious. She had been squeezing them and was picking them as we visited. Telling everyone that there is no cause for concern b/c she's on IV Vanco. I ask her about her culture and she says MRSA. I'm floored. My best freind and her lovely family have MRSA walking right into their home! I warn my freind.Here it is 5 months later and my best pal has been doing her best to thwart this womans visits. But, her daughter is best freinds with this womans daughter and they are very close. Now, the daughter has a area on her abd that started as looking like a spider bite, is now red hot, painful, and swollen, and Mom's in denial. Has not taken her to the Doc. Mom's still on IV Vanco and has not rid of the MRSA. Mom's also popping the "boil". I'm so worried. I'll keep my family away as much as possible. Just thought you'd like to know that MRSA has unleashed itself into the community.
Just thought you'd like to know that MRSA has unleashed itself into the community.
wow what an eye-popping wake-up call.......,and around all those BABIES, no less. (a LaLecheLeague meeting, right?) THIS is HORRIFYING!!! we best educate our community around us, huh?
Or is that Little League?
I'm sorry, that's Little League. Still a wake up to me.
Thanks for sharing this, flowerchild!!! It's frightening to think MRSA could be transmitted in water!! BTW, there is Vancomycin Resistant Staph Aureus now.
I just wonder if this could be related to the dumping of untreated sewage and other materials 100 miles off the coast were it is "supposedly" safe to dump things.
This matter has been of interest to me since purchasing a second residence in Port Richey in 1999.
Having worked closely with the local homeless in the North Pinellas and South Pasco County areas, I have seen the MRSA epidemic(?) in the area up close and personal.
This is an issue worthy of greater concern than it is receiving!
Having contracted MRSA myself on several occasions, to the point of being a veritable regular at the North Bay ER, I inquired with the staff as to the pervasiveness of the condition.
The physicians dismissed the matter rather blithely, while the nursing staff was adament that the issue is of considerable concern.
Clearly, something is not right here.
The pervasiveness of this condition among the health-care deprived population in the area is nothing short of astounding and is there for all to view who care to inquire.
While the story related above by flowerchild is indeed frightening, it is by no means an isolated, nor even unusual, instance in the area north of St. Petersburg.
CseMgr1, ASN, RN
MRSA has been in the Gulf for a LONG time. Case in point: some 32 years ago when I was still living at home, I went to Panama City Beach with my parents for summer vacation. My Mom had just shaved her underarms before we left home. Ten days later, she wound up with a nasty nest of boils which were so painful that she could not raise or lower her arms, and required two weeks of Erythromycin. That was back in 1972, and God only knows what kind of cesspool the Gulf has become, since!
It is routinely cultured out of the dirt in my area. It is everywhere staph is today. Many of us are colonized with it. Just something for us all to keep in mind.
Of course staying healthy and able to resist bugs 'taking over' should be the primary goal for all of us. Particularly with the knowledge that bugs may not have an antidote should they become embedded ie cause an infection.
In the dirt!!!?
I KNEW it!
The ER physicians in Pasco county insist that this is not the case, while the local homeless and working poor (who routinely contract MRSA and impetigo) insist that it is contracted both via the dirt as well as via the Gulf of Mexico.
I'm not quite sure what to make of this, but I'm certain there is a valuable lesson contained in this anecdote. :)
Well, well...Seems the healthcare estabishment is finally recognizing the problem in the Tampa Bay area. :)
Antibiotic-resistant staph infections on the rise
St Pete Times article
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