FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Another worry for beach lovers: Swimming in the ocean can expose you to drug-resistant bacteria.

A study unveiled Friday showed that 37 percent of swimmers at a South Florida beach emerged dripping water with staph in it, 3 percent being virulent MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).

“Don’t be afraid of the water. You should enjoy yourself at the beach, but you should do some common sense things to protect yourself,” said Dr. Lisa Plano, a pediatrics and microbiology specialist at the University of Miami medical school.

Her advice: Shower before swimming to protect others, with soap if possible. Shower after to protect yourself. Pools are fine; chlorine kills staph.

MRSA cannot be killed with standard drugs, and has been turning up in nonhospital settings such as schools, nursing homes and gyms.

It strikes at least 100,000 people and kills about 19,000 yearly.

At highest risk are the elderly, infants and those with weak immune systems. The symptoms: a bump or spot that is red, swollen, painful, warm or full of pus.

The new research proved a suspicion that tropical waters could spread the germ. Plano’s team looked at 670 volunteers at Hobie beach near Key Biscayne in Florida. The water carried staph that apparently washed off other swimmers, she said.

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AP-NY-02-13-09 2100EST

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