Surfer bums and antibiotic resistant bacteria

Surfer bums and antibiotic resistant bacteria


Surfers on average swallow 170ml of seawater,
about half a can of fizzy drink, every time they go surfing. But as well as this
they are also swallowing bacteria, some of which are resistant to antibiotics. So how do antibiotic resistant bacteria
end up in the sea in the first place? Anne Leonard is part of a research team
at the University of Exeter Medical School, led by Dr. William Gaze. When humans and animals are given antibiotics to treat bacterial infections, these antibiotics can
select for resistance in the gut, and these resistant gut bacteria are excreted, and end up in wastewater treatment plants
and coastal waters. Last year the team published a paper
looking at E. coli bacteria in coastal waters,
and how people doing water sports might be exposed to resistant strains. What we found was that the proportion of E. coli that are resistant to these
antibiotics was low, and that bathing waters
around England and Wales are relatively clean. Despite this however, certain water users
such as surfers are at particularly high risk of swallowing
these resistant bacteria. The study estimated that over 6 million
watersports sessions in 2012 led to somebody swallowing
a resistant strain of E.coli. Based on these results, Anne is now running something called the Beach Bum Survey. We’re working with Surfers Against Sewage to recruit regular surfers to the Beach Bum Survey as well as people who don’t have a lot of contact with seawater. And we’re asking participants
to collect their own rectal swab, which will collect a sample of the
bacteria from their gut, which we then analyse for the
presence of resistance. We’re hoping that the results of the study
will tell us more about the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria from natural environments like the coastal zone to people, and this could be really important
because there are people in the general population that are susceptible to developing infections – if they develop
resistant infections, we are running out of antibiotics
that are effective at treating them.

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