U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Water Research (2012), doi:10.1016/j.watres.2012.04.001


Incidences of Staphylococcus aureus and methicillin resistant S. aureus (MRSA) have risen worldwide prompting a need to better understand routes of human exposure and whether standard bacterial water quality monitoring practices adequately account for this potential threat. Beach water and sand samples were analyzed during summer months for S. aureus, enterococci, and MRSA at three southern California beaches (Avalon, Doheny, Malibu Surfrider). S. aureus frequently was detected in samples of seawater (59%, n = 328) and beach sand (53%, n = 358). MRSA sometimes was detected in seawater (1.6%, n = 366) and sand (2.7%, n = 366) at relatively low concentrations. Site specific differences were observed, with Avalon Beach presenting the highest concentrations of S. aureus and Malibu Surfrider the lowest in both seawater and sand. S. aureus concentrations in seawater and sand were correlated to each other and to a variety of other parameters. Multiple linear regression on the combined beach data indicated that significant explanatory variables for S. aureus in seawater were S. aureus in sand, water temperature, enterococci in seawater, and the number of swimmers. In sand, S. aureus concentrations were related to S. aureus in seawater, water temperature, enterococci in seawater, and inversely to surf height classification. Only the correlation to water temperature held for individually analyzed beaches and for S. aureus concentrations in both seawater and sand. To provide context for these results, the prevalence of S. aureus in sand was compared to published fomite studies, and results suggested that beach prevalence was similar to that in homes.