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Resistance in the Pipes

Hospital pipes are a breeding ground for superbugs, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health's Clinical Center sampled not only places routinely checked in hospitals by epidemiology teams like sinks and high-touch surfaces, but also housekeeping closets, wastewater from hospital internal pipes, and external manholes. They were particularly searching for carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, as the LA Times notes.

The Clinical Center's Karen Frank and her colleagues report in an epidemiological and genomic analysis in mBio that only about 1 percent of samples from high-touch spots harbored carbapenemase genes and about 3 percent of sink drains or faucets did. However, nearly 80 percent of samples from wastewater manholes, pipes, or sludge included organisms with the carbapenem-resistance genes.

They further reported that though there were few patient-environmental isolate associations, some plasmid backbones were common to both populations. This suggested to Frank and her colleagues that wastewater is an unappreciated possible source of antibiotic resistance.

The LA Times adds, though, that drinking water is OK. Frank tells the paper that "there has been no evidence to suggest that antibiotic-resistant bacteria in wastewater from hospitals, households, or other sources are contaminating drinking water in the United States."