Rivers and streams could be a major source of antibiotic resistance in the environment. The discovery comes following a study on the Thames river by scientists at the University of Warwick’s School of Life Sciences and the University of Exeter Medical School. The study found that greater numbers of resistant bacteria exist close to some waste water treatment works, and that these plants are likely to be responsible for at least half of the increase observed.
Antimicrobial resistance is one of the largest threats to human health for a century, the researchers argue. Increasingly large amounts of antibiotics are released into the environment through both human and agricultural use, with surface run off from farming activities (including fertiliser and animal slurry) washed straight into rivers after heavy rainfall.
Co-lead on the research, professor Elizabeth Wellington of the University of Warwick, says, “Antibiotic resistance naturally occurs in the environment, but we don’t yet know how human and agricultural waste is affecting its development. We’ve found that waste water discharges effect resistance levels and that improvements in our treatment processes could hold the key to reducing the prevalence of resistant bacteria in the environment. We found antibiotic resistance in the group Enterobacteriaceae which includes gut bacteria and pathogens.”