New research conducted by the University of Exeter, UK, has uncovered that regular surfers are three times more likely to have antibiotic-resistant E. coli in their stomachs.
It was already known that surfers are ten times as likely to swallow more sea water than sea swimmers. Scientists wanted to see if they also have a stronger vulnerability to bacteria.
The Beach Bums Study asked close to 300 people, half of whom regularly surf the UK coastline and half who are non-surfers, and also took rectal swabs.
Bacteria surviving treatment
After comparing the faecal samples from surfers and non-surfers, it was found that the former’s stomachs contained E. coli bacteria that was able to grow despite the presence of a commonly used antibiotic known as cefotaxime.
The results, which were published in the journal Environment International, found that 9% of the 143 surfers tested were host to the resistant bacteria, while only 3% of the 130 non-surfers tested had the bacteria in their system.
Researchers also found that regular surfers were four times more likely to have bacteria containing mobile genes that make bacteria resistant to antibiotics.
This is interesting as the resistance ability can be passed between bacteria. The UN Environment Assembly has recognised this spread of antibiotic resistance as an emerging environmental concern.
‘One of the greatest health challenges of our time’
Dr Anne Leonard of the University of Exeter Medical School, who led the research, said: “Antimicrobial resistance has been globally recognised as one of the greatest health challenges of our time, and there is now an increasing focus on how resistance can be spread through our natural environments.
“We urgently need to know more about how humans are exposed to these bacteria and how they colonise our guts.
“This research is the first of its kind to identify an association between surfing and gut colonisation by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”
Is an antibiotic-resistant future imminent?
The World Health Organization has warned that we are entering an era in which antibiotics are no longer effective in killing previously treatable bacterial infections.
This means that infections like pneumonia, tuberculosis and gonorrhoea could be fatal. It would also mean that using antibiotics to prevent infections in routine medical procedures would no longer be possible.