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Superbugs found breeding, spreading in sewage plants

Published: January 14, 2014
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Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been raising alarms for years, particularly in hospital environments where public health officials fear they can be transferred from patient to patient and are very difficult to treat. Bacteria harboring the encoding gene that makes them resistant have been found on every continent except for Antarctica. Tests at two wastewater treatment plants in northern China revealed antibiotic-resistant bacteria —“superbugs” carrying New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1), a multidrug-resistant gene first identified in India in 2010 — were not only escaping purification but also breeding and spreading their dangerous cargo. NDM-1 is able to make such common bacteria as E. coli, salmonella, and K. pneumonias resistant to even the strongest available antibiotics.

Tests at two wastewater treatment plants in northern China revealed antibiotic-resistant bacteria were not only escaping purification but also breeding and spreading their dangerous cargo.

A Rice University release reports that joint research by scientists from Rice, Nankai, and Tianjin universities found “superbugs” carrying New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1), a multidrug-resistant gene first identified in India in 2010, in wastewater disinfected by chlorination. They found significant levels of NDM-1 in the effluent released to the environment and even higher levels in dewatered sludge applied to soils.

The study, led by Rice University environmental engineer Pedro Alvarez, appeared this month in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters.

“It’s scary,” Alvarez said. “There’s no antibiotic that can kill them. We only realized they exist just a little while ago when a Swedish man got infected in India, in New Delhi. Now, people are beginning to realize that more and more tourists trying to go to the upper waters of the Ganges River are getting these infections that cannot be treated.

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