They found that MRSA, as well as a related pathogen, methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA), were present at all four WWTPs, with MRSA in half of all samples and MSSA in 55 percent. MRSA was present in 83 percent of the influent the raw sewage at all plants, but the percentage of MRSA- and MSSA-positive samples decreased as treatment progressed. Only one WWTP had the bacteria in the treated water leaving the plant, and this was at a plant that does not regularly use chlorination, a tertiary step in wastewater treatment.
Ninety-three percent of the MRSA strains that were isolated from the wastewater and 29 percent of MSSA strains were resistant to two or more classes of antibiotics, including several that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has specifically approved for treating MRSA infections. At two WWTPs, MRSA strains showed resistance to more antibiotics and greater prevalence of a gene associated with virulence at subsequent treatment stages, until tertiary chlorination treatment appeared to eliminate all MRSA. This suggests that while WWTPs effectively reduce MRSA and MSSA from influent to effluent, they may select for increased antibiotic resistance and virulence, particularly at those facilities that do not employ tertiary treatment (via chlorination).
"Our findings raise potential public health concerns for wastewater treatment plant workers and individuals exposed to reclaimed wastewater," says Rachel Rosenberg Goldstein, environmental health doctoral student in the School of Public Health and the study's first author. "Because of increasing use of reclaimed wastewater, further research is needed to evaluate the risk of exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria in treated wastewater."
|Contact: Kelly Blake|
University of Maryland