Assessing bacterial pathogens in the coastal zone

Are they a threat to human health?

This ERDF-funded PhD project aims to investigate human exposure to, and infection by, antibiotic resistant pathogenic bacteria in natural aquatic environments.

It has just published a study that demonstratesĀ coastal water users’ risk of exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria, see more here.

Sewage treatment plants are thought to serve as hot-spot reservoirs for the development and transmission of antibiotic resistance genes among bacteria. Effluent from these treatment plants, which contains large numbers of bacteria and other infectious agents, is discharged into natural waters, such as rivers, where they eventually enter the coastal zone.

The association between exposure to contaminated natural waters and the risk of infection has been extensively studied over the past 60 years. The first stage of this project will involve a systematic review and meta-analysis of the evidence on the risk of acquiring infections from the recreational use of natural waters. This review is being conducted with the help of Dr. Andrew Singer at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and will provide an insight into the entry of pathogenic bacteria to the human population.

Secondly, this study will undertake a mapping review of the exposure formulae used in quantitative microbial risk assessment models. In combination with bathing water quality data collected by the Environment Agency, this review will provide a basis for calculating an overall estimate of the risk of exposure to CTX-M carrying bacteria in UK coastal waters.

Future work may include the development of a mobile phone application to remotely collect epidemiological data on an at-risk population, such as surfers. Surfer gut colonisation by bacteria that carry antibiotic resistance genes may also be undertaken.

This project is supervised by Dr Ruth Garside and Dr William Gaze.

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