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article imageUK beaches being invaded by antibiotic-resistant bugs

By Karen Graham     Mar 30, 2015 in Health
Birmingham - It's a no-brainer to correlate swimming in not-so-clean water with coming into contact with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. A study has revealed that recreational users of the coastal waters off England and Wales may be at risk of exposure to these bugs.
The public is exposed to antibiotic-resistant bacteria in any number of ways, and we are just beginning to understand some of the modes of transmission. But we still don't fully understand the impact on public health from these bacteria.
Claiming to be the first study of its kind, researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School collected water samples from coastal waters in England and Wales to determine whether recreational users of the coastal waters were at risk from exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
After collecting data from 2012, the research team discovered that 6.3 million recreational water sports sessions resulted in one particular type of bacteria being found that was resistant to a well-known and possibly overused class of antibiotics known as third-generation cephalosporins (3GCs) being swallowed.
The bacteria in question, a strain of Escherichia coli, a Gram-negative bacterium, is resistant to 3GCs, and according to the researchers, is particularly vulnerable to becoming a major antibiotic-resistant bug. This study also demonstrates the importance of maintaining the standards set forth in the EU Bathing Water Directive, the mandate being to keep coastal waters clean.
The team looked at surfers, swimmers, snorkelers and kayakers while gathering their data, taking into account incidental and accidental accounts of swallowing coastal waters. According to the researchers, the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant [i]E. coli[i] running into the sea from streams and rivers is relatively rare, accounting for only 0.12 percent of the E. coli resistant to 2GCs.
But, even though the percentage is small, it still presents a potential risk to swimmers and other water users. Of course, sea swimmers and surfers are at greater risk of exposure than kayakers because they are more apt to swallow water.
Dr William Gaze, a microbiologist and lead in the study says the findings presented today at the Society for General Microbiology's Annual Conference is just one part of the story. There is still more work to be done on how additional exposure to these pathogens impacts the health of coastal water users, finding out if they are really getting sick in large numbers.
Dr. Gaze says: "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. 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."
More about Beaches, Antibioticresistant bacteria, UK beaches, thirdgeneration cephalosporins, E coli
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