Ocean swimming alters microbiome of the skin

Ocean swimming microbiome — Swimming in the ocean can be a dangerous affair. We’ve all heard of the people get bitten in the sea by sharks and dying by losing too much blood. But the deadliest killer under waves could be quite smaller—a lot smaller.

According according to the findings of a study presented at ASM Microbe 2019, the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, taking a bath in the ocean greatly alters the microbiome of the our skin, resulting in an increased risk of a contracting an infection.

To conduct their study, the researchers used 9 people–volunteers found on the beach– who met a number of criteria, including the non-use of sunscreen, infrequent exposure to the ocean,no bathing within the last 12 hours, and no antibiotics during the previous six months . These participants were then asked to take a swim in the ocean for ten minutes.

“Our data demonstrate for the first time that ocean water exposure can alter the diversity and composition of the human skin microbiome,” said Marisa Chattman Nielsen, the lead author on the study.

The researchers found that the skin microbiomes of the participants were different before swimming but were significantly similar after swimming because the water had eliminated normal bacteria and deposited oceanic bacteria on the skin. During the first 24 hours after swimming, microbial communities began to regain their pre-swim status, and normal commensal flora established dominance, the researchers said.

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“I think it is important that clinicians recognize that exposure to ocean water can cause changes in the skin microbiome and possibly leave us susceptible to pathogenic organisms present in the ocean,” says Nielsen. “Some of these pathogens are only found in water and may not be in the differential diagnosis otherwise.”

Vibrio species, which live in salt water and whose surface temperature exceeds 13 °C, were also found on the skin of the participants. Infections usually occur through skin ruptures and after the consumption of raw or undercooked seafood – such as molluscs or oysters – or by contact of a wound with water where bacteria live.

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Paige Driessen

Paige is an Arizona native who loves the outdoor life. She writes about a wide range of topics for The Talking Democrat