Antibiotic-resistant bacteria in seawater

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Dangerous germs: antibiotic-resistant bacteria in sea water

The discussion about antibiotic-resistant bacteria does not stop. The dangerous germs are being discovered more and more outside of hospitals and even on foods like chicken meat from factory farming. Swiss researchers have now identified the pathogens in Lake Geneva. They identified the waste water from a university clinic as the original source. Many lakes may be affected, the water of which comes from treated wastewater from hospitals.

How do the multi-resistant germs get into the hospitals?
The multi-resistant germs (MRSA = methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) are generally referred to as bacteria of the Staphylococcus aureus strain, which have developed resistance to almost all antibiotics. This includes penicillin, among others.

If an antibiotic is taken, the bacteria are usually killed. However, mutations of some pathogens can develop resistance to the antibiotic. The resistant germs can multiply and "infect" other types of bacteria via the resistance-mediating genes. Resistance is favored by the use of certain cleaning agents, the ingredients of which include so-called quaternary ammonium compounds with a disinfectant effect. Because the same genes of the bacteria that are resistant to the quaternary ammonium compounds also transmit the antibiotic resistance to the bacteria.

Everyone can transmit multi-resistant germs, even if the treatment with antibiotics was long ago. The pathogens generally pose no danger to healthy people. However, if the germs get into a seriously ill body with a severely weakened immune system, they can cause serious damage that can even lead to the death of the patient. The typical consequences of an MRSA infection include severe inflammation from surgical wounds, blood poisoning and pneumonia.

Sea water contaminated with antibiotic-resistant germs from hospital wastewater It is known that municipal wastewater contains a wide variety of bacteria. Wastewater from hospitals is particularly polluted. Due to the steady increase in MRSA in the clinics, the wastewater is also polluted accordingly. The bacteria are usually rendered harmless in the sewage treatment plant. The most dangerous pathogens would survive the sewage processes undamaged and in some cases even benefit from them, writes the Swiss Federal Institute for Water Supply, Wastewater Treatment and Water Protection (Eawag) in Switzerland.

Nadine Czekalski, who carried out the essential investigations as part of her dissertation, wanted to work with her colleagues to find out how the multi-resistant germs get into Lake Geneva through the sewage treatment plant. The cleaned wastewater comes from Lausanne. Approximately 700 meters from the shore, it is led into Lake Vidy in Lake Vidy. As there is no pharmaceutical industry or large factory farms in the area, these sources were eliminated for the pathogens. The researchers quickly came across the Vaud University Hospital, a large hospital that is connected to the Lausanne sewage treatment plant.

Bacteria pass on resistance to one another According to Eawag, analyzes of urban wastewater, lake water and sediment showed an “unexpected pattern”. The high number of multi-resistant germs in the hospital wastewater was particularly alarming. A total of 75 percent of the bacteria were eliminated by the sewage treatment plant. However, the proportion of antibiotic-resistant pathogens in the treated wastewater had increased. According to microbiologist Helmut Bürgmann, the sewage treatment plant could be a breeding ground for the exchange of multi-resistant gene sequences among the bacteria.

The exchange of gene sequences takes place here between germs that are normally found in the human body and bacteria that have already adapted to the environment. "The fact that bacteria incorporate resistance is nothing special and also not dangerous," Bürgmann told Eawag. However, the frequency of multi-resistance in the vicinity of the sewage pipes, especially in the sediment of Lake Geneva, has only just been discovered. This also increases the risk that multi-resistant genes from hospital germs would be incorporated.

According to Czekalski, the results are “no reason to panic”. A drinking water tap is located three kilometers from the entrance to the sewage treatment plant. The researchers were able to detect the multi-resistant germs in the sediment, but not in the sea water. Before it is fed into the line network, it is also processed. Since 15 percent of Swiss wastewater is channeled into lakes after treatment, the scientists still call for caution. In the study, they also recommend treating wastewater from hospitals separately, as these are the source of the multi-resistant germs.

Pilot project launched in Germany In Germany, a pilot project is currently being implemented by the AOK and the Red Cross Hospital in Bremen to prevent the spread of multi-resistant germs and to reduce the risk of infection during a hospital stay.

Patients are examined for germs in the pre-planned operation. If a multidrug-resistant pathogen is detected, those affected receive advice as well as treatment to prevent the transmission of the germs to other patients and to reduce the risk of infection. (ag)

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Picture: Dr. Herrmann,

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