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

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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