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Hospital wastewater releases deadly superbugs directly into the environment

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria

(NaturalNews) Nearly all wastewater samples tested as part of a new study on "superbugs" were found to be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to reports. Scientists, publishing their work in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, found that, among 11 sites tested throughout France, 96 percent of wastewater samples contained antibiotic-resistant strains of E. coli bacteria.

The same is likely true of water supplies elsewhere, as effluent becomes increasingly contaminated with bacteria that have built up resistance to even the strongest antibiotics. Wastewater, not only from hospitals, where superbugs are increasingly prevalent, but also from municipal treatment plants, is teeming with the critters, which could pose a public health threat.

Xavier Bertrand and his colleagues from the University of Franche-Comte in Besancon, France, decided to investigate the purity of wastewater, even after it has been treated, to look for superbugs. They collected water samples from 11 sites throughout the Besancon wastewater network, two of which contained wastewater from university hospitals. Some of the water was also collected from the city and from rainwater.

Wastewater from livestock farming was purposely excluded in order to assess superbug prevalence in other water sources.

After testing all the samples, the team found that every single one contained some form of E. coli. Of these, 96 percent contained antibiotic-resistant forms of E. coli. And interestingly enough, the average number of individual E. coli in city wastewater was found to be more than twice that of hospital wastewater, which came as somewhat of a surprise.

"These multi-drug resistant bacteria are now the most frequently isolated ones in French hospitals, and in many countries," stated Bertrand about the results in an email to Reuters. "The extent to which the discharge of (antibiotic-resistant E. coli) into the environment contributes to its global spread remains uncertain."

Treating wastewater can actually make resistant bacteria worse

While wastewater treated before release back into the environment resulted in a 94 percent drop in antibiotic-resistant bacterial contamination, the team observed an uptick in the actual concentration of these bacteria among all other remaining bacteria. The proportion of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, in fact, doubled as a result of treatment.

"[I]nitially, 0.3 percent of E. coli carried a gene for resistance, whereas 0.6 percent did after treatment," wrote Allison Bond for Reuters.

How this concentration affects humans is still up for debate, and microbiologist John Scott Meschke from the University of Washington in Seattle seems to think that current water purification techniques are adequate for making water safe enough to drink. But not everyone is convinced that such findings can be brushed off so easily.

A similar but unrelated study out of India, published back in 2011, found that drinking water in the heavily populated capital city of New Delhi is also contaminated with resistant bacteria. In this case, the bacteria identified included pathogens that cause dysentery and cholera, two conditions that are arguably more serious than an E. coli infection when it comes to their threat to human health.

But the implications are still the same, as even small numbers of bacteria carrying resistant genes are capable of spreading such genes to other bacteria, leading to widespread resistance in those exposed.

"These are extremely worrying results," stated Professor Tim Walsh from Cardiff University in Wales, lead author of the earlier Indian study, to Medical News Today. "This is an urgent matter of public health," he added, noting that the superbug phenomenon is a global epidemic that requires urgent action.

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