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Top Story

Harvey samples saddled with antibiotic-resistant genes

Scientists have released the first results of extensive water sampling in Houston after the epic flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. They found widespread contamination by E. coli, likely the result of overflow from flooded wastewater treatment plants. The microbial survey showed high levels of E. coli, a fecal indicator organism, trapped in homes that still contained stagnant water weeks after the storm, as well as high levels of key genes that indicate antibiotic resistance. A pair of National Science Foundation RAPID grants helped the team collect and analyze samples. Early samples from each location carried elevated levels of E. coli. But most striking was the fact that sampled water and later, sediment, showed abundant levels of two indicator genes, sul1 and intI1, that mark the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, even weeks after the flood. In particular, samples from floodwaters inside closed homes showed concentrations of sul1 were 250 times greater and intI1 60 times greater than in bayou samples. The immediate takeaway from the study is that people should take extra care to avoid direct contact with stagnant floodwaters, especially in flooded homes with niches for pathogens to grow.

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