Drug-resistant bacteria have been found in surface waters in New Delhi, according to a British study. Reported in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, the study showed that NDM-1 bacteria (named for the city) were found in about one-fourth of the samples taken from drinking water supplies and from standing water on the streets. Scientists believe many people in the city are carrying bacteria in their digestive system but are unsure how many are actually getting sick because of it. Foreign travelers returning from India and a few other countries have also been found to carry the bacteria.
There has been concern about the spread of multi-drug-resistant “superbugs” for years. In 2003, an editorial in Stormwater examined the issue.
In the US, bacteria in water supplies might seem like a wastewater treatment problem, or a problem for the medical profession or even the agricultural industry to address; the overprescribing of antibiotics for human use, and the extensive use of antibiotics in animals raised for food, have both been blamed for the increase in drug-resistant strains. By some counts 80% of the antibiotics used in the US are consumed by animals—chicken and cattle, primarily—to speed their growth and protect them from disease.
Many people in this country request—and doctors often prescribe—antibiotics for conditions that don’t really require or respond to antibiotic treatment—colds caused by viruses, sinus infections, and ear infections, for example. In India, antibiotics are widely available even without a prescription, and there as well as elsewhere, many people fail to take the complete course of antibiotics, stopping as soon as they feel better. This practice helps surviving bacteria to develop a resistance, so that fewer of them respond to common drugs like penicillin and tetracycline.
What does this have to do with surface water quality? That depends. Some groups are calling for additional funding for clean water projects throughout the world—since nothing stays local for long—and, concerned about the potentially rapid spread of drug-resistant bacteria, are advocating increased monitoring of drinking water supplies, surface waters, and effluent from wastewater treatment plants. How prominent do you think this issue should be on the radar of stormwater and surface water quality managers?