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Superbugs resistant to last-resort drugs infecting the Yamuna, says study

Some of these bacterial communities are resistant to drugs used to treat diseases such as tuberculosis and conjunctivitis.

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New Delhi: The Yamuna is teeming with bacterial communities resistant to not only commonly used antibiotics but also last-resort bacterial infection drugs, a study has found.

Scientists from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Bhopal and Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden conducted a study on the microbial community in the Yamuna.

The Yamuna is one of the most polluted rivers in India and “the accumulation of various effluents, toxic chemicals, [and] heavy metals” adversely affects the organisms in and around the river, the study said.

The researchers found a high prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria, such as carbapenemases and metallo-β-lactamases, in the Yamuna. Some of these bacteria have genes that make them resistant to common drugs used for treating diseases such as TB, conjunctivitis and a number of common bacterial infections.

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The team found bacterial samples resistant to a large number of broad-spectrum antibiotics, including carbapenem, which is considered a last-resort drug for bacterial infections.

The results, published in the journal Environmental Microbiome, revealed that the Yamuna also contained traces of the carbapenem class of antibiotics themselves, which could be due to the discharge of untreated hospital wastes into the river. This may be the reason the microbial community was able to transform itself into becoming carbapenem-resistant.

The microbial community is adapting and transforming to survive toxic conditions in the river system due to high levels of chemicals, metal toxins and antibiotics in the river system.

A global health menace

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, commonly referred to as superbugs, are a growing global health menace. 

In the study, the researchers noted that extensive use of over-the-counter antibiotics leads to the development of antibiotic resistance in microbes residing in the human body. As a result, these resistant microbes become a common component of sewage waste and contaminate the environment.

The rivers then carry these drug-resistant microbial communities to other areas, spreading the problem to other states. Eventually these rivers drain into the ocean system, making the drug-resistant microbial community a potential global problem.

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According to the study, India is among the largest consumers of antibiotics and the Yamuna receives domestic and industrial waste from one of the most populated cities. Prevalence of superbugs in the Yamuna is a source of concern as this may mean that our hospitals and homes are already infected with superbug communities.

The study also found a significant difference in the quality of water before and after monsoon. The results showed pre monsoon samples had greater resemblance to sewage samples, as pollution levels were higher in the Yamuna during before the month of June.

“During summers (May-Jun), the river is almost in a dry state and mainly contains the outfalls of various drains.

“These outfalls carry untreated or partially treated domestic and industrial wastewater. The river gets recharged during monsoon (Jul-Oct), and thus, it shows an improved water quality during the post-monsoon season (Oct-Nov),” the study further states.

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