Antibiotic Resistance Countryfile Blog - Surfer Looking out At Sea

In a recent Countryfile episode, the topic of discussion revolved around antibiotic resistance.

As it transpires, the superbugs that thrive in our hospitals and our homes, leading to antibiotic resistance, are just as likely to be found at the coast, hiding in plain sight – in the sea.

Antibiotic Resistance Countryfile Blog - Surfer In The Waves

The dangers beneath the waves

In research carried out by the University of Exeter Medical School found that ‘antibiotic resistant E-coli… are present in coastal waters of England and Wales,’ and that their ‘levels are high enough to pose an exposure risk, with over 2.5 million exposure events estimated in 2015’.

So, if you’re a dog, a surfer, or a very brave swimmer, how can you stay safe?

Following the research conducted by the University of Exeter, it was found that surfers are 3 x times more likely to be carrying antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their guts.

Antibiotic Resistance Countryfile Blog - Surfer Chatting With Host

“This new emergent threat of resistant bacteria is a worrying one,” according to David, a surfer and member of ‘Surfers Against Sewage’ interviewed during the programme.

And, as host Charlotte Smith says, “It’s not just surfers affected here – anyone who uses the beach could be potentially affected.”

So, why is this? Why has our seawater become contaminated with antibiotic-resistant superbugs?

Part of the reason comes about because heavy rains can cause raw sewage to overflow into our rivers and beaches. It also comes from inland sources, such as wastewater or farms.

Antibiotic Resistance Countryfile Blog - Sheep

The problem with farm animals

About a third to a half of the antibiotics used in the world for farming are used in the UK, this is for treating diseases in animals.

Resistant bacteria and drug residues are then passed through the animal and washed out into our farmlands and rivers by rainfall.

Antibiotic Resistance Countryfile Blog - Bacteria In The Sea

To address this issue, farmers in the UK and Europe have put new processes in place to reduce their usage of antibiotics – a fantastic response to an urgent problem.

However, use of antibiotics in farming is still wildly unregulated across the globe, leading to potentially contaminated antibiotic-resistant meat ending up in our supermarkets.

Antibiotic Resistance Countryfile Blog - Bacteria Growth

Biocidal products are on the rise

The general public are now acclimatised to using antimicrobial products everywhere from your own washing machine and kitchen sink to the washroom in a country pub.

Indiscriminate overuse of such potent antimicrobial agents can result in the emergence of bacteria with reduced susceptibility to these compounds.

These resistant bacteria, while themselves may not be ‘pathogenic’ to humans and animals, enter our environment through watercourses. This means they’re able to pass their resistance on to other harmful disease-causing bacteria.

Antibiotic Resistance Countryfile Blog - Collecting Resistant Bacteria

Scientific studies have shown that the mechanisms encoding resistance to common household biocides are often genetically linked to antibiotic drug resistance. 

In many cases, multiple resistance genes can be readily transferred between bacteria and so exposure to just one biocidal agent can result in the development and spread of multi-drug resistant micro-organisms in our environment.

Antibiotic Resistance Countryfile Blog - Surfer

We can all make a difference!

Employing responsible cleaning practices and products in our homes and workspaces, and limiting the use of anti-microbial cleaning solutions to where they are absolutely necessary (e.g. on critical healthcare surfaces and food preparation areas) we can all play a vital role in reducing the constant pressure on the microbiome to select for resistance.

One way to do this is through the use of probiotic cleaning products. Rather than using harsh chemicals, products containing ‘beneficial bacteria’ can be applied to specific cleaning challenges to break down the soiling present and malodourous compounds. As well as this, the beneficial bacteria naturally compete with and can overtake the harmful bacteria present.

Furthermore, because the beneficial bacteria remain on, and in, the surface after application, they continue to work for as long as there is food for them, they can remove stubborn soiling over a few days or a few applications, and can prevent the re-establishment of harmful organisms.

Want to learn more? Watch the full Countryfile episode.

Find out more about probiotic cleaners and antibiotic resistance:

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