News Feature | January 13, 2014

Superbug Found In China's Wastewater

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Researchers say an antibiotic-resistant "superbug" appears to be slipping past wastewater treatment plants in Northern China. 

Researchers found significant levels of this threat in wastewater that had been chlorinated and released into the environment. They found even higher amounts in dewatered sludge applied to soils, according to a blog post by researchers at Rice University. 

The so-called "superbugs" carry New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1), the post said. In layman's terms, that is "a multidrug-resistant gene first identified in India in 2010."  

Rice University's Pedro Alvarez, the lead researcher on a study about the problem in China, called the results "scary." 

 “There’s no antibiotic that can kill [the bug.] 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," he said. 

The researchers saw it as significant news for the water industry. The original study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters, said the findings "underscore the need to better understand and mitigate their proliferation and propagation from wastewater treatment plants." 

Alvarez pointed out that wastewater plants are usually effective in cleaning up threats. 

"We often think about sewage treatment plants as a way to protect us, to get rid of all of these disease-causing constituents in wastewater. But it turns out these microbes are growing. They're eating sewage, so they proliferate. NDM1 was earlier found in Delhi's public water supply used for drinking, washing and cooking," he said. 

Digital Journal pointed out that "the discovery could trigger a rise in antimicrobial resistance and hence a health threat."

The "superbug" problem had become so enduring in India that the Wall Street Journal declared last year that human victory seemed out of reach. 

"India has lost the war against the toughest forms of antibiotic resistance, largely because of poor sanitation, unregulated use of antibiotics and an absence of drug resistance monitoring," the report said. 

For more on this topic, visit Water Online's Wastewater Disinfection Solution Center

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