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Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are invading swimmers off the British coast

E. coli

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(NaturalNews) There are more than six million instances per year of people being exposed to antibiotic-resistant E. coli while swimming or engaging in other water-based recreation off the British coast, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School and published in the journal Environment International.

Even more alarming, the E. coli detected in the study were actually resistant to not just a single drug, but an entire drug class, the third-generation (3G) cephalosporins.

"We know very little about how the natural environment can spread antibiotic resistant bacteria to humans, or how our exposure to these microbes can affect health," co-author William Gaze said. "People are exposed to antibiotic resistant bacteria in many ways, through person-to-person contact, via food and as a result of international travel.

"Our research establishes recreational use of coastal waters as an additional route of exposure. With millions of people visiting beaches in England and Wales each year, there is a risk of people ingesting 3GC resistant E. coli, and it looks like water-users' exposure to all resistant bacteria could be even higher."

Gene-swapping risk

The researchers used data on the number of people who engaged in different forms of water-based recreation off the coast of England and Wales in 2012, then combined this with estimates of how likely it was to swallow water during each such activity (such as swimming, surfing or kayaking).

They then analyzed various water samples taken from "coastal bathing waters" in the two countries, and found that antibiotic resistant E. coli was actually quite rare in the samples - accounting for only about 0.12 percent of E. coli detected (unsurprisingly, water that scored higher on measures of water contamination had higher levels).

When the two data sets were combined, the sheer scale of recreational ocean activity produced a number of 6.2 million separate individual exposure incidents in 2012.

It remains unknown how many of these exposures lead to actual illness. Most strains of E. coli are harmless, but a handful of strains are responsible for varied and potentially serious human diseases, from food poisoning to urinary tract infections and even bacterial pneumonia.

Regardless of how many people are getting sick, however, the presence of antibiotic-resistant E. coli in the water is alarming for another reason: E. coli is notorious for the ease with which it passes its genetic traits, such as antibiotic resistance, to other bacterial species. Thus, each of those six million exposures was also a potential opportunity for "horizontal gene transfer" with other disease-causing bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus (known in its antibiotic-resistant form as MRSA).

Drug-resistant bugs are everywhere

"Although this research has established that coastal waters are a potential source of exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria, we're not recommending that people stop visiting the beach," co-author Anne Leonard said. "Exercise and enjoyment of the natural environment has many established benefits for health and well being, and this kind of research will help us ensure people can still make the most our coastal resources."

Indeed, the study may be less a reflection of how contaminated the ocean is and more a reflection of how prevalent drug-resistant bacteria are. In a study from researchers at the Universite de Lyon in France, published in Current Biology in 2014, researchers found that antibiotic resistance genes have been detected in every single environment tested, from the oceans to the soil to human feces.

"While the environment is known to harbor antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, as proven by many preceding studies, we did not really know the extent of their abundance," researcher Joseph Nesme said.

The genes detected most widely were those conferring resistance to the most common human and animal drugs.

(Natural News Science)





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