A new study shows that surfers are three times more likely to harbor very resistant types of E.coli.
Surfers swallow almost ten times more seawater than the average swimmer, researchers at the University of Exeter report. Since many sewage collections drain into the sea, they sometimes bring along various types of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (ARB). Researchers suspected that surfers ingest a worrying amount of such bacteria.
Dr Anne Leonard, lead author of the paper said: “This research is the first of its kind to identify an association between surfing and gut colonisation by antibiotic resistant bacteria.”
Unfit antibiotic treatments for viral infections and not respecting the full length and dosage of such treatments, are catalysts for bacterial resistance, a problem which is becoming more and more worrisome.
Bacteria are living organisms and the laws of evolution apply to them just like other creatures. When you take a treatment that kills most but not all bacteria, you’re accelerating their evolution. The survivors will be super trained to resist treatment. In a way, antibiotic resistance is their only way of surviving and adapting.
Surfing with the bugs
Scientists isolated many genes responsible for allowing Enterobacteriae (the family which includes E. coli) to survive antibiotics. One group, the blaCTX-M genes, confers resistance to multiple beta-lactam antibiotics.
Researchers analyzed 97 bathing water samples from England and Wales, noting the proportion of E. coli harboring blaCTX-M.They discovered that 11 out of the 97 bathing water samples were contaminated with the super-bug.
After they identified surfers as being at risk of exposure to ARB, scientists compared surfers and non-surfers to see whether there was an association between surfing and gut colonization by blaCTX-M- bearing E. coli.
The scientists discovered that 9 out of 143 (6.3%) surfers were colonized by blaCTX-M-bearing E. coli, as compared with 2 out of 130 (1.5%) of non-surfers.
Professor Colin Garner, founder and manager of Antibiotic Research UK — the only charity in the world set-up to tackle antibiotic resistance — said this was a “pioneering finding”.
He said that antibiotics enter the environment from farms or sewage. Environmental samples “have higher antibiotic concentrations than patients being administered antibiotics”.
“Research into new medicines to replace our archaic antibiotics has stagnated and unless new treatments are found, this could be potentially devastating for human health,” Professor Garners added.
“We know very little about the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria and resistance genes between our environment, farm animals, wild animals and humans.”
“This research helps us understand better the movement of resistant bacteria in surfers,” he said, but the next step should be testing if surfers and those in close contact with them are at greater risk of serious infection.