NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – People who regularly drink tea or coffee may be less likely to carry the antibiotic-resistant “superbug” MRSA in their nostrils , a new study suggests.
Researchers found that of more than 5,500 Americans in a government study, those who drank hot tea or coffee were about half as likely as non-drinkers to harbor MRSA bacteria in their nostrils.
Exactly what it all means, though, is unclear.
MRSA (pronounced “mersa”) stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus , a type of bacteria that causes staph infections that are resistant to several common antibiotics . In hospital patients, MRSA can cause life-threatening pneumonia or blood infections. In the general public, it typically causes painful skin infections , but those can sometimes develop into serious invasive infections.
A small segment of the population — about one percent — carries MRSA in the nose or on the skin but does not get sick.
For the new study, reported in the Annals of Family Medicine, researchers looked at whether coffee or tea drinkers were any less likely than other people to harbor MRSA in the nose.
The idea for the study came from the fact that, in both the lab dish and in humans, topically applied or inhaled tea extracts have shown some anti-MRSA activity, explained lead researcher Dr. Eric M. Matheson, of the University of South Carolina, Charleston.
Less research has been done on coffee compounds, he told Reuters Health, but there is some evidence of antibacterial powers there as well.
Matheson’s team found that, indeed, tea and coffee drinkers were less likely to carry MRSA.
Overall, 1.4 percent of the study group harbored the bacteria in their noses. But those odds were about 50 percent lower among people who said they drank hot tea or coffee, versus non-drinkers.
The big caveat, though, is that the link does not prove that tea or coffee, themselves, are the reason for the lower risk.
The study shows an association between the two, Matheson said, “but you never