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Scientists and Surfers team up to assess antibiotic resistance risk

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Posted June 10, 2015

World Ocean’s Day — Scientists in Cornwall are about to begin an innovative study that will shed light on how surfers exposed to human sewage and diffuse pollution in seawater might be affected by antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Anne Leonard and colleagues recruiting

Anne Leonard and colleagues recruiting

To help them, the group from the University of Exeter Medical School is joining forces with environmental charity, Surfers Against Sewage, and calling on surfers across the country to help by providing samples gathered from rectal swabs.

In the first project of its kind, the Beach Bums study wants to recruit 150 surfers and bodyboarders who surf at least three times a month. In a novel approach to data collection, the team is also asking each participant to recruit someone who doesn’t surf.

The swabs will give researchers an insight into the microbes that are colonising participants’ guts and they are hoping that by comparing samples from those who regularly spend time in seawater with those who don’t, they’ll be able to build a clearer picture of how antibiotic resistance in the environment can affect people.

The rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria has been described as one of the greatest health threats facing humans today. As microbes become immune to existing antibiotics, our ability to treat common infections is rapidly diminishing and a UK government review recently called on the global pharmaceutical industry to create a £1.3bn innovation fund into new antibiotics research.

Anne Leonard, one of the researchers leading the study, said: “We know that surfers regularly swallow lots more seawater than other beach users – around 170 ml per session, which is more than 10 times that of sea swimmers. We’ve already shown that this water may contain antibiotic resistant bacteria but we have no idea how this might affect the microbes that live in our guts, or how it could impact upon health. So we’re asking healthy adults who surf or bodyboard at least 3 times a month to take part in a study that will shed much needed light on the effects of marine pollution.”

Andy Cummins, Campaigns Director at Surfers Against Sewage, said: “Whilst water quality has improved dramatically in the last 20 years, coastal waters can still be contaminated by sewage from both animals and humans, introducing billions of potentially harmful bacteria into the ocean environment. We want to build a clearer picture of the risks people face when entering the water, so we can ensure our seas are safe for everyone to enjoy. Monday June 8 marks World Oceans Day and we’re launching the Beach Bums study today because we truly believe that healthy oceans can lead to a healthy planet.”

Source: University of Exeter

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