ASM Microbe 2019 — Members of the cholera genus stick to ocean swimmers


  • Emily Willingham, PhD
  • Conference Reports
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Takeaway

  • Ocean swimming changes the skin microbiome, leaving behind new microbial travelers, including members of the Vibrio genus, which includes cholera bacteria. 

Why this matters

  • Swimmers in this study air-dried and did not rinse, suggesting that rinsing might be a reasonable preventive step, as ocean-related activities are linked to skin and other infections.

Key results

  • After air drying, all participants had ocean-related bacteria on them even at 24 hours after swimming.
  • Vibrio species, the genus that includes cholera bacteria, were identified on every study participant up to 6 hours after swimming.
  • Vibrio representation was greater on the human skin than in the ocean (by 10-fold), suggesting that these bacteria might have a specific affinity for skin, say the authors. 
  • After 24 hours, each participant’s usual microbiota began to dominate.

Study design

  • The calves of 9 participants were swabbed before and at 10 minutes and 6 and 24 hours after an ocean swim.
  • The participants were not using sunscreen, had limited ocean exposure otherwise, and had not bathed in the last 12 hours or taken antibiotics within 6 months. 

Limitations

  • Results were presented without peer review at a conference, and the study was quite small.