Surfers contribute to antibiotic resistance

Actu GP Antibio-résistance : les surfeurs y contribuent

A British study indicates that surfers are more at risk of being infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria present in seawater.


Bacterial resistance to antibiotics has become a global public health issue. According to some estimates, resistant bacteria could cause close to 10 million deaths per year by 2050. Understanding how individuals are exposed and infected by these bacteria could allow more appropriate control strategies to be developed. Researchers have therefore evaluated the presence of resistant Escherichia coli bacteria in British bathing waters... as well as in surfers’ intestines!

97 sites studied

Recent studies showed that bathing in seawater increased the risk of contracting gastrointestinal infections and that E. coli is frequently involved in this type of infection.  This bacterium is very common, though not dangerous, but the antibiotic-resistant forms, which are increasingly numerous, can make the treatment of benign infections difficult. Researchers at the University of Exeter conducted a two-phase study.  Firstly, they sampled and analyzed seawater at 97 sites on the English and Welsh coasts.  They then compared stool samples from 143 surfers with those of 130 individuals who lived in these areas but did not bathe in the sea.

2.5 million risky sea-baths

The analyses revealed the presence of two types of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in 15% and 11% of the seawater samples. Although the concentration of these bacteria in the water was low (0.12% and 0.07%), the researchers estimate that in 2015, not less than 2.5 million sea-baths may have led to infections in the United Kingdom.  Stool samples indicated that surfers are between three and four times more at risk of being colonized by antibiotic-resistant E. coli.

Being a carrier of such bacteria has no direct impact on health, but can both complicate treatment of a mild infection, and contribute to the spread of antibiotic resistance.  “We hope that these results will help political decision-makers, authorities in charge of beaches and water companies to take actions to improve water quality in the interest of public health”, said1 Dr.  Will Gaze, who oversees these studies.


1University of Exeter's press release




Leonard A, Zhang L. Balfour A et al. Exposure to and colonisation by antibiotic-resistant E. coli in UK coastal water users:        Environmental surveillance, exposure assessment, and epidemiological study (Beach Bum Survey). Environment International      Pathogens 2018 ; in press