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Is there really a link between MRSA and e-cigarettes?


Is there really a link between MRSA and e-cigarettes?

The electronic cigarette industry is subject to scrutiny once again in several news articles following the results of a study that suggest e-cigs promote the growth of MRSA.

Commonly referred to as the “superbug”, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of bacterial infection resistant to a number of widely used antibiotics, and it’s this resistance that makes it extremely hard to treat.

A modest study conducted by US researchers from the University of California took a harsh strain of MRSA, named USA300 and placed it into agar plates with varying concentrations of e-liquid. Researchers assessed virulence by measuring bacteria growth, changes in pH, sensitivity to reactive oxygen species, surface charge, hydrophobicity, and the formation of biofilm.

Examination of the agar plates found that the MRSA bacteria had concealed itself in slime (biofilm); this self-protective slime could make the bacteria even harder to kill off. It is however a mega-leap to assume that the findings from the agar plates could be related to real patients, yet articles published recently almost present this as fact.

Carl V. Phillips, scientific director of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association says, “This appears to be a classic case of academics who have one hammer in their toolbox and use it to hit whatever happens by,”

“That is fine so long as this is reported only to other scientists who can make use of the information,” he says, “putting it out to the public as if it has worldly implication is inappropriate.”

Phillips says the public “has no idea whether this translates into a measurably increased risk or just a technical change in the pathogen whose effects are probably bad in sign but perhaps inconsequential in magnitude.”

A possibly unnecessary fear has now been created, using scaremonger tactics by giving the impression that electronic cigarette users are at increased risk of MRSA. The basis of this fear has been generated from research with an abstract that leaves many questions unanswered.

Indeed the author, Dr Crotty from UCSD, has commented on her research saying, "The research is still in the preliminary stages, thus it has not been published. It did undergo peer-review to be accepted for presentation at the ATS conference (American Thoracic Society). I, of course, want to submit it to a journal ASAP." Dr Crotty went on to say that, because the bacteria were exposed to tobacco vapour in a dish, "A more accurate statement is that the e-cigarette vapor that I tested significantly diminished the ability of human and mouse cells to kill bacteria..." and to place it in more perspective,  "MRSA exposed to e-cigarette vapor was also more aggressive, but not to the same degree. If cigarette smoke made MRSA 100% more successful at causing pneumonia, e-cigarette vapor only increased it 20%.”


3rd June 2014, 15:49