Bringing science and development together through news and analysis

‘South Asia waters harbour drug-resistant bugs’
  • ‘South Asia waters harbour drug-resistant bugs’

Copyright: CDC

Speed read

  • Superbugs are spreading across South Asia through poor sanitation

  • High levels of antibiotic resistance genes found in the waters of the sacred Ganges river

  • Scientist suggest better handling of human waste during the pilgrimage season

Shares
[BANGALORE] The spread of drug-resistant bacteria through water is emerging as a serious public health threat across South Asia, according to a series of recent research publications.

Though seen as part of a global trend — a 2010 study in Lancet Infectious Diseases termed it ‘a worldwide health problem’ — the risk of massive spread through poor sanitation calls for special attention in South Asia, says Timothy Walsh, a scientist at the University of Cardiff who is working on antibiotic resistance genes (ARG) in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The latest study from South Asia, funded partly by Astra Zeneca, UK, and by The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, UK, was reported last month (February) in Environmental Science and Technology by a team led by David Graham from Newcastle University, UK. 

Scientists from India and the UK compared water samples along the river Ganges at the two pilgrimage centres of Haridwar and Rishikesh during the months of February and June in 2012.  February is off-season for pilgrimages while June sees a heavy pilgrim influx.

Looking for the presence of 'New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase-1' — an enzyme that confers resistance to multiple antibiotics that was first reported from India in 2011 — the scientists found a 20-fold increase in the levels of the ARG during the pilgrim season.  On a parallel track, the scientists also found uniformly high levels of ARG in Delhi, across both months.

Graham's team had reported a similar increase in ARG in the Almendares river in Cuba during the wet season in a study published in Frontiers in Microbiology in November 2012.

“Our short-term solution is for local governments to make available much more local waste-handling facilities to accommodate visitors during the pilgrimage season, such as portable toilets,” Graham tells SciDev.Net.

A study in the Asian Pacific journal of Tropical Disease in 2014 from Nepal found high levels of resistance among patients to several antibiotics used to treat shigellosis, an infection caused by Shigella bacteria that spread through water.

Another report, published by scientists from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, in Diagnostic Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, December 2013, found resistance to several anti-microbial drugs in over 99 per cent of Shigella isolates taken from patients’ stool samples.

Link to abstract of paper in Environmental Science and Technology


Republish
We encourage you to republish this article online and in print, it’s free under our creative commons attribution license, but please follow some simple guidelines:
  1. You have to credit our authors.
  2. You have to credit SciDev.Net — where possible include our logo with a link back to the original article.
  3. You can simply run the first few lines of the article and then add: “Read the full article on SciDev.Net” containing a link back to the original article.
  4. If you want to also take images published in this story you will need to confirm with the original source if you're licensed to use them.
  5. The easiest way to get the article on your site is to embed the code below.
For more information view our media page and republishing guidelines.