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Hudson River Teeming with Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria due to Untreated Sewage Water

Jul 20, 2013 08:08 AM EDT

Jumping into the Hudson River to escape the unbearable heat could give you a nasty infection. 

A team of researchers have now found strains of the deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria thriving in the river, especially from the Tappan Zee Bridge to lower Manhattan.

The microbes that researchers found were positive to common antibiotic drugs such as ampicillin and tetracycline. The scientists visited particular spots in the river for about ten times and found ampicillin-resistant bacteria about 85 percent of the time and tetracycline-resistant bacteria about 38 percent of time.

"If you find antibiotic-resistant bacteria in an ecosystem, it's hard to know where they're coming from. In the Hudson, we have a strong case to make that it's coming from untreated sewage," said Andrew Juhl, a microbiologist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and co-author of the study.

Researchers found most of these bacteria in places where sewage water was being released in the river. The strains found in these regions include potential pathogenic ones such as those of the genera Pseudomonas, Acinetobacter, Proteus and Escherichia.

Many people get infections after swimming, but only few need antibiotics to treat the infection. Severe infections associated with swimming often go unreported except major cases like the one where over 30 athletes caught an infection after participating in an event in Malaysia.

Previous research has shown that many rivers in the U.S., including Hudson River, have strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria, particularly due to discharge of sewage water. About, 27 billion gallons of waste water is released into the Hudson River each year. Especially during heavy rains, waste water treatment plants are forced to send rain water and sewage water into the river- called combined-sewer overflow, or CSO.

Efforts by Riverkeeper- an environmental group along with scientists at Lamont-Doherty and Queens College at the City University of New York have helped clean the Hudson River in the past few decades. However, some regions in the river still have a high influx of these drug-resistant bacteria. Experts are worried about the kind of effect this influx could have on the native aquatic life.

The following areas along the Hudson River had the most number of the drug-resistant bacteria: Flushing Bay, near LaGuardia Airport, Newtown Creek, on the border of Brooklyn and Queens; and sewage outfall pipes near Piermont Pier in Rockland County, N.Y.; West 125th Street in Manhattan; and Yonkers, in Westchester County, N.Y., according to a news release by the Columbia University.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the threat of microbes getting resistant to a drug isn't isolated to any country, but is problem faced by the entire world. The U.S. for example faces some real danger from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Recently, the agency announced the rise of nightmare bacteria- carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, that have become resistant to the last-resort antibiotics called carbapenems.

The study is published in the Journal of Water and Health.

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