Superbugs in sewage a risk to bathers and water sports enthusiasts

Abundance of antibiotic-resistant bacteria a risk where ingestion of waters could occur

A marked increase across the globe in the occurrence of illness caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria (ARB) has occurred over the past decade.

Most of these “superbugs” relate to hospital-acquired infections rather than contact with recreational waters.

A recent UK study concluded, however, their abundance in sewage presents an exposure risk to bathers and those engaged in water sports where ingestion of waters could occur.

The recent discovery of an antibiotic-resistant superbug on beaches close to Spiddal, Co Galway by a team from NUI Galway was blamed on the discharge of raw sewage into the sea. It was the first time that the NDM enzyme, indicating the presence of bacteria known as "carbapenemase-producing Enterobacteriaceae" (CPEs), has been found in bathing seawater in Europe. It is usually found in less-developed countries, particularly in Asia.

Genetic fingerprint

Further EPA-funded research by NUI Galway has identified the genetic fingerprint of antibiotic resistant E. coli in a sewage discharge and associated Irish bathing waters nearby.

The EPA bathing report for 2016 notes that techniques to isolate and count the number of ARBs “are not well developed making it difficult to assess potential bather exposure”.

The EPA’s Urban Wastewater Report 2015 highlighted that raw sewage is being discharged into 43 areas in Ireland and that delivery of suitable treatment facilities is delayed by an average of almost two years.