Dangerous staph bacteria have been found in sand and water for the first time at five public beaches along the coast of Washington, and scientists think the state is not the only one with this problem. The germ is MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus—a hard-to-treat bug once rarely seen outside of hospitals but that increasingly is spreading in ordinary community settings such as schools, locker rooms and gyms.
The germ causes nasty skin infections as well as pneumonia and other life-threatening problems. It spreads mostly through human contact. Finding it at the beach suggests one place that people may be picking it up, one expert says: "We don't know the risk" for any individual going to a beach, "but the fact that we found these organisms suggests that the level is much higher than we had thought." Beachgoers are advised to cover cuts or scrapes before digging in sand, and wash off afterwards. (Read more staph infections stories.)