Antibiotic-resistant bacteria in wastewater and potential human exposure through wastewater reuse
Goldstein, Rachel Elizabeth Rosenberg
Sapkota, Amy R.
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As community-acquired antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections occur with increasing frequency, it is important to identify possible environmental reservoirs for these organisms. My dissertation evaluated the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in U.S. wastewater intended for reuse and the related public health implications. My objectives were to: 1) Evaluate wastewater from four U.S. wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) for the presence of methicillin-resistant <italic>Staphylococcus aureus</italic> (MRSA); 2) Evaluate the occurrence of vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) at four U.S. WWTPs from which treated wastewater is reused; and 3) Determine and compare MRSA, methicillin-susceptible <italic>S. aureus</italic> (MSSA), VRE, and vancomcyin-susceptible enterococci (VSE) colonization among American reclaimed water spray irrigators and controls. Between 2009 and 2010, 44 wastewater samples were collected from four WWTPs, two in the Mid-Atlantic and two in the Midwest regions of the U.S. I analyzed samples for MRSA and VRE using standard membrane filtration. For the third objective, I collected 94 nasal and dermal swabs from 19 spray irrigators and 24 controls and analyzed them for MRSA, MSSA, VRE, and VSE. I confirmed all isolates and performed antimicrobial susceptibility testing by microbroth dilution. Statistical analyses included two-sample proportion tests and logistic regression. MRSA and VRE were detected at all WWTPs. The percentage of MRSA-positive samples and concentration of VRE decreased as treatment progressed. Neither MRSA nor VRE were identified in tertiary-treated samples, but I identified both in an un-chlorinated effluent sample. No MRSA or VRE were detected in nasal or dermal samples from spray irrigators or controls. MSSA and VSE were detected in 26% and 11% of spray irrigators and 29% and 0% of controls, respectively. The odds of MSSA, MDR MSSA, and either MSSA or VSE colonization were not significantly different between the spray irrigators and controls. My dissertation includes the first reports of MRSA at U.S. WWTPs and VRE at WWTPs whose effluent is intended for reuse. This is also the first U.S. evaluation of occupational exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria in reclaimed water. My findings provide additional scientific evidence that antibiotic-resistant bacteria can survive secondary-treated wastewater and may cause increased risks for infection among individuals exposed to reclaimed water.