Heavy metal exposure and nasal Staphylococcus aureus colonization: analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)

Shoshannah Eggers, Nasia Safdar, Kristen Mc Malecki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Heavy metals including lead and cadmium can disrupt the immune system and the human microbiota. and are increasingly of concern with respect to the propogation of antibiotic-resistence. Infection by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a major cause of global morbidity and mortality. Heavy metal exposure may be associated with increased MRSA colonization and infection, and a decrease in methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA) through co-selection mechanisms and natural selection of antibiotic resistance in the presence of heavy metals. This study examines the association between blood lead (Pb) and cadmium (Cd) level, and MRSA and MSSA nasal colonization. METHODS: All data used for this analysis came from the 2001-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The analytical sample consisted of 18,626 participants aged 1 year and older. Multivariate logistic regression, including adjustment for demographic and dietary factors, was used to analyze the association between blood Pb and Cd, and nasal colonization by MRSA and MSSA. RESULTS: Prevalence of MRSA and MSSA carriage were 1.2%, and 29.3% respectively. MRSA was highest in women, individuals age 70 and older, who self-identified as black, had only a high school diploma, lived below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level, and had a history of smoking. While not significantly different from those colonized with MSSA, geometric mean blood Pb (1.74 μg/dL) and blood Cd (0.31 μg/L) were highest in those colonized with MRSA. Associations with MRSA colonization appeared to increase in a dose-dependent manner with increasing quartile of blood Pb level. Blood Cd level in the fourth quartile was also significantly associated with lower odds of MRSA colonization. Both metals were associated with lower odds of MSSA colonization. CONCLUSIONS: Both MRSA and MSSA results suggest that general population levels of blood Pb but not Cd are associated with differences in nasal carriage of S. aureus. While further research is needed, reduction in heavy metal exposures such as lead, concurrently with maintaining a healthy microbiota may be two modifiable options to consider in the fight against antibiotic-resistance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2
Number of pages1
JournalEnvironmental Health: A Global Access Science Source
Issue number1
StatePublished - 5 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Cadmium
  • Cd
  • Environmental epidemiology
  • Heavy metals
  • Lead
  • MRSA
  • MSSA
  • Pb


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