News Feature | August 29, 2016

For First Time Ever, Superbugs Found In Drinking Water

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

In what appears to be a first-time discovery, researchers found a drug-resistant “superbug” in the drinking water in a developed country.

The discovery of antibiotic-resistant E. coli bacteria in water samples from France highlights “the presence of expanding reservoirs of these resistance genes, including reservoirs in the environment,” according to a news release. The research appeared this month in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, a publication of the American Society for Microbiology.

“Drinking water was rarely recognized as a source of antimicrobial resistance for humans, and only in low-income countries. Our findings highlight the possible human transfer of ESBL genes through drinking water in high-income countries.” ESBLs, the report explained, “are widespread enzymes conferring resistance 35 to broad-spectrum [antibiotics].”

“To our best 90 knowledge, this is the first report of an ESBL producer in drinking water in a high-income country,” the study said.

Marisa Haenni, a scientist who worked on the paper, explained the significance of these findings in a statement.

“All potential reservoirs — human, animal, and environmental — are now contaminated by ESBLs,” said. “Though this contamination strongly varies, depending on the studied reservoir and country, no one is protected from the sporadic presence of ESBLs in places that should be free of this resistant bacterium.”

Nevertheless, “water supplies in France are constantly improving as new potential threats are taken into account,” Haenni said, per the report.

The researchers tested one-liter water samples collected in sterile bottles containing sodium thiosulfate “at the point where drinking water enters the distribution system or to a point of consumption,” according to the study.

The superbug threat made headlines this summer when research showed how prevalent they were in waters used in the Olympic Games in Rio.

“Scientists at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro carried out tests in areas including Guanabara Bay — the sailing venue — over the course of a year. They told CNN they had found the highest level of superbugs of the sort found in hospitals on the shores of the bay, with pollution problems also evident on tourist beaches,” CNN reported.