Water treatment facilities hotspots for superbugs: Study

Bacteria electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli bacteria. (Reuters)

Even as the crisis of antibiotic resistance looms large, an international team of doctors has found that waster water treatment facilities, including where chlorination of drinking water is done, are hotspots for spread of the multidrug-resistance organisms or superbugs.

Focusing on the issue of antibiotic resistance, the new report, compiled by 26 leading experts from around the world including India and published in the British medical journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases, has called for developing a global code of conduct for antibiotic use and strategies to deal with antibiotic resistance.

Dr Chand Wattal, Indian author of the report and Chairperson of Department of Microbiology at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital here, said, "Waste water treatment facilities can be a hotspot. The chlorination of drinking water can, in fact, concentrate some antibiotic resistant genes."

"One of our key recommendations is for increased research on how to reduce and neutralise man-made antibiotic pressure and how to control the resistance pool in hotspot environments," added Wattal.

According to the report, in India, E-coli isolated from urine cultures of pregnant women in their first trimesters showed highest overall resistance to antibiotics like ampicillin, naladixic acid, and co-trimoxazole by 75 per cent, 73 per cent, and 59 per cent, respectively between 2004 and 2007.

Moreover, 30 per cent had shown resistance to injectable antibiotics such as amino-glycosides, the report said about its findings in India.

In a study of bloodstream infections, the proportion of E-coli producing ESBLs, an enzyme that can break the commonly used antibiotics rendering them ineffective, has increased from 40 per cent in 2002 to 61 per cent in 2009, and the proportion of K pneumonia with carbapenem resistance increased from 2.4 per cent to 52 per cent, the report stated.

The report concluded that there is a need for global concerted actions to deal with the serious threat to public health caused by the rapid loss of antibiotic effectiveness.

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