University of South Florida researchers investigating the aftermath of a September, 2014 sewer line break in St. Petersburg, Fla., have found dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the untreated wastewater that gushed into neighborhoods and into Boca Ciega Bay at a rate of 250 to 500 gallons per minute. Their findings, just published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology raise several significant public health concerns.
First, a strain of bacteria found in the water tested resistant to vancomycin, an antibiotic considered to be a “last resort” treatment for serious infections that do not respond to other antibiotics. Second, the combination of aging sewer infrastructure and an increase in stormwater flooding with extreme rain events increases the likelihood of more spills occurring and continuing to spread these dangerous, drug-resistant bacteria in populated areas. Finally, the researchers found that the vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) bacteria found in the untreated wastewater contains a gene capable of transferring vancomycin resistance to other strains of bacteria. This fuels the greater problem of increasing antibiotic resistance among other kinds of bacteria.