Surfers Harbor Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, Study Finds

Fagjun | Published 2018-01-20 01:06

People who hit the waves regularly are three times more likely to carry around antibiotic-resistant E. coli bacteria in their gut.

Why are surfers bringing home antibiotic-resistant bacteria?

Why are surfers bringing home antibiotic-resistant bacteria?


Bacteria can be scary enough, since the microscopic things can pack quite a punch when it comes to affecting our health. However, they get that much scarier when you attach the term “antibiotic-resistant” to them. After all, bad bacteria aren’t so intimidating if you know that getting rid of them is just an antibiotic regimen away. Once they’re resistant to antibiotics, however, it becomes a different story.


A new study now shows that surfers, especially those that regularly go surfing, are more likely to have antibiotic-resistant E. coli in their gut than non-surfers. This strain is particularly virulent and resistant to treatment, though the surfers themselves may be asymptomatic. However, it’s possible that they’ll spread the bacteria to other people that they come into contact with, thus making the general population susceptible to this particular antibiotic-resistant bacterial strain.

Resistance to Antibiotics

Some E. coli have developed genes that make them resistant to antibiotics.

Some E. coli have developed genes that make them resistant to antibiotics.


So why surfers? Our oceans aren’t necessarily the cleanest bodies of water on the planet. Researchers think that surfers are more susceptible to acquiring antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or ARB, because they swallow significant amounts of water while surfing. According to the researchers, the antibiotics that farmers use on livestock is the root of the problem. Farmers use the manure of these livestock to fertilize the soil, and water runoff from these fields may sometimes make its way to rivers and oceans.


When certain bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, it’s because of the overuse of these antibiotics. Some E. coli, for example, have developed a resistance to Cefotaxime. Cefotaxime is the first choice when it comes to treating bacterial infections like those caused by E. coli. However, not only have some of the bacteria have managed to develop a resistance to Cefotaxime, they have also managed to multiply.


The researchers used fecal samples from surfers and non-surfers to better understand how prone surfers are to Cefotaxime-resistant E. coli. Findings showed that 13 of the 143 surfers (nine percent) in the study had Cefotaxime-resistant E. coli in their gut. Meanwhile, only four of 130 non-surfers (three percent) had the same kind of E. coli. The surfers were also four times more likely to have bacteria that can spread their antibiotic-resistant genes to other bacteria.

The Future of Infections

While people aren't dissuaded from surfing, they do need to be informed.

While people aren't dissuaded from surfing, they do need to be informed.


Surfers themselves, since they tend to be quite healthy, are unlikely to be adversely affected by the ARB in their gut. However, there’s always a chance that they may pass the bacteria on to the elderly or those with compromised immune systems. These people, unsurprisingly, tend to have less of an ability to fend off the effects of bad bacteria, especially bacteria that can’t be killed by antibiotics.


The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that antibiotic resistance is “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.” Our antibiotics may soon be unable to treat simple infections, meaning that some infectious diseases may become fatal. People undergoing routine surgeries may also be in danger of contracting infections due to the lack of effective antibiotics.


While these findings aren’t intended to stop people from going into the water, it’s important that we make informed decisions on things that can impact our health.

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