Scientists and Surfers team up to assess antibiotic resistance risk

Today is World Oceans Day and SAS is teaming up with leading health experts in Cornwall to launch an innovative study that will shed light on how surfers exposed to human sewage and diffuse pollution in seawater might be affected by antibiotic resistant bacteria.  Since the start of this year’s bathing season (15th May), our Safer Seas Service has warned of almost 400 separate pollution events across England and Wales, issuing free, real-time warnings be beach users.

We are working with scientists from the University of Exeter Medical School and calling on surfers across the country to help by providing samples gathered from rectal swabs.

In the first project of its kind, the Beach Bums study wants to recruit 150 surfers and bodyboarders who surf at least three times a month. In a novel approach to data collection, the team is also asking each participant to recruit someone who doesn’t surf.

The swabs will give researchers an insight into the microbes that are colonising participant’s guts and they are hoping that by comparing samples from those who regularly spend time in seawater with those who don’t, they’ll be able to build a clearer picture of how antibiotic resistance in the environment can affect people.

The rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria has been described as one of the greatest health threats facing humans today. As microbes become immune to existing antibiotics, our ability to treat common infections is rapidly diminishing and a UK government review recently called on the global pharmaceutical industry to create a £1.3bn innovation fund into new antibiotics research.

Anne Leonard, one of the researchers leading the study, said:

“We know that surfers regularly swallow lots more seawater than other beach users – around 170 ml per session, which is more than 10 times that of sea swimmers. We’ve already shown that this water may contain antibiotic resistant bacteria but we have no idea how this might affect the microbes that live in our guts, or how it could impact upon health. So we’re asking healthy adults who surf or bodyboard at least 3 times a month to take part in a study that will shed much needed light on the effects of marine pollution.”

To participate, volunteers should register their details [email protected] and must live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland*. They will be provided with a Beach Bums kit to collect their samples and also asked to complete a short questionnaire. All data collected will be treated as strictly confidential.  (*There are restrictions in Scotland preventing  sending these types of samples.)