Drug-Resistant Bacteria in Water System Hospitalizes Thousands in the U.S.

Bacteria such as Pseudomonas can live in pipes surviving on nutrients in water
Bacteria such as Pseudomonas can live in pipes surviving on nutrients in water

HealthDay News — The thousands of miles of aging, corroding pipes that bring water to Americans each day may be home to drug-resistant bacteria, according to a report published online September 12 in the Journal of Public Health Policy.

These bacteria include Legionella, Pseudomonas, and mycobacteria. While these bacteria thrive in many environments, they "can [also] live in the pipes; they can survive on tiny amounts of nutrients found in water," lead researcher Jeffrey Griffiths, MD, of the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, told HealthDay

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Overall, his team's analysis of 100 million Medicare records found that, between 1991 and 2006, 617,291 older Americans were hospitalized after becoming ill from infection with these three common bacteria – which are often found in plumbing. Health care costs for related illnesses totaled $9 billion in Medicare payments – an average of $600 million a year, Griffiths' group said.

Many of the bacteria that triggered these cases may already be resistant to one or more antibiotics, as was seen in 1 to 2% of hospitalizations. Not only are antibiotic-resistant bacteria much more dangerous for patients, but treating such cases boosts costs by 10 to 40%, Griffiths said. He was former chair of the Drinking Water Committee for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Science Advisory Board.

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