Researchers used data gathered across England and Wales in 2012, and estimated that over 6.3 million water sport sessions resulted in one type of bacteria resistant to an important class of antibiotics known as third-generation cephalosporins (3GCs) being swallowed. The team considered surfers, sea swimmers, divers and kayakers and found that while only 0.12% of E.coli found in coastal waters and rivers running into beaches were resistant to 3GCs, this number was enough to present a potential risk of exposure to water users. The findings suggest that surfers and sea swimmers were at highest risk of exposure, due to their tendency to swallow more water. It also showed that people's risk of exposure to resistant bacteria is closely related to water quality at a given beach.
Dr. William Gaze, lead researcher and microbiologist, said, "Our research establishes recreational use of coastal waters as an additional route of exposure. With millions of people visiting beaches each year, there is a risk of people ingesting E. coli and it looks like water-users' exposure to all resistant bacteria could be even higher. Although this research has established that coastal waters are a potential source of exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria, we are not recommending that people stop visiting the beach. Natural environment has many established benefits for health and well-being and this kind of research will help us ensure people can still make the most our coastal resources in safe environment."
The research was presented at the Society for General Microbiology's annual conference at the International Convention Center in Birmingham.