A UK study has found that regular surfers were three times more likely to have an antibiotic resistant strain of E. coli bacteria in their gut than non-surfers. This not only suggests surfers are more likely to be at risk from these microorganisms, but there is an unexpected prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria in coastal bathing waters around the UK.

Dubbed the "Beach Bums" study, the research saw 300 subjects submit rectal swabs for analysis. Half of the subjects were regular surfers, while the other half were non-sea swimmers and acted as a control group. The study found that nine percent of the surfers carried the antibiotic resistant bacteria, compared to three percent of the control group. The study also examined samples of coastal water from 97 locations and found the antibiotic resistant bacteria in 11 of the samples.

"Antimicrobial resistance has been globally recognized as one of the greatest health challenges of our time, and there is now an increasing focus on how resistance can be spread through our natural environments," says Anne Leonard, lead on the research. "We urgently need to know more about how humans are exposed to these bacteria and how they colonize our guts."

Surfers were found to be much more susceptible to ingesting the bacteria because they swallow significant volumes of seawater during a surf session. Of course, you may be wondering how the antibiotic resistant bacteria got into the seawater in the first place?

The authors of the study suggest it enters the coastal environment from a variety of water run-off sources, including farm crops treated with manure and sewage. This particular type of E. coli bacteria is notable because it is resistant to a commonly used antibiotic called cefotaxime, which is often prescribed by doctors.

The researchers do not want to prevent people from coastal activities but stress that this study should highlight how coastal waters can act as pathways for spreading antibiotic resistance throughout the community and also remind authorities of the necessity in keeping waters clean and safe.

"We are not seeking to discourage people from spending time in the sea, an activity which has a lot of benefits in terms of exercise, wellbeing and connecting with nature," says Will Gaze, a supervisor on the research. "We now hope that our results will help policy-makers, beach managers, and water companies to make evidence-based decisions to improve water quality even further for the benefit of public health."

The study was published in the journal Environment International.

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