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Scientists call for clampdown on antibiotics in the Thames

The amount of antibiotics entering the River Thames would need to be cut by 80 per cent to avoid the spread of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs”, according to a new study.

The study by scientists from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) found that across three-quarters of the River Thames catchment, the antibiotics present were likely to be at levels high enough for antibiotic-resistant bacteria to develop.

“Rivers are a ‘reservoir’ for antibiotic-resistant bacteria which can quickly spread to people via water, soil, air, food and animals,’ said Dr Andrew Singer of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, who led the study.“

Our beaches offer a similar risk. It has been shown that surfers are four times more likely to carry drug-resistant bacteria than non-surfers.”

Up to 90 per cent of prescribed antibiotics taken by people pass through the body and into the sewerage system, where about half end up in rivers when effluent is discharged.

“The release of drugs and bugs into our rivers increases the likelihood of antibiotic-resistant genes being shared, either through mutation or ‘bacterial sex’,” added Dr Singer.

“This is the first step towards the development of superbugs as the drugs used to fight them will no longer work. Environmental pollution from drugs and bugs is a serious problem that we need to find solutions to.”

The CEH-led research was based on prescription data from clinical commissioning groups for two classes of antibiotics – macrolides, such as erythromycin and azithromycin, and fluoroquinolones such as ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin and moxifloxacin.

Macrolides treat a range of respiratory and sexually transmitted infections such as pneumonia, whooping cough and chlamydia, while fluoroquinolones treat respiratory and urinary tract infections.

These were chosen for the study because they biodegrade slowly while other antibiotics such as penicillin biodegrade before they get to the river.

The study also comes after England’s chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies warned last week that bugs resistant to antibiotics could pose a more immediate risk to humanity than climate change, and may kill at least 10 million people a year across the world.

There are a number of different ways we could reduce the amount of antibiotics entering rivers, including reducing inappropriate prescriptions1and the development of new wastewater treatment processes that would remove the drugs and bugs from sewage.

Author: Jamie Hailstone,
Topic: Sewer Networks , Wastewater quality , Water resources
Tags: Thames estuary , River pollution , water pollution

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