Scientists have found drug resistant super bugs downstream of a sewage treatment plant in the River Sowe near Coventry, media said.
The microbes contain mutated genes that are resistant even to the latest generation of antibiotics, the Independent reports.
The researchers said that sewage treatment plants are acting like giant “mixing vessels” where antibiotic resistance is spreading between microbes, which are then released into the environment.
A large number of microbes living in the river had a genetic mutation, which is known to provide resistance to third generation antibiotics or cephalosporins – a class of antibiotic used to treat hospital acquired infections, like blood infections and meningitis.
The scientists also found human gut bacteria in the river sediment that had developed resistance to Imipenem, a type of antibiotic used in severe infections not treatable with other antibiotics, which is administered using intravenous injections.
“This is a worrying development and we need to be concerned about it. We’ve completely underestimated the role waste-treatment processes can play in antibiotic resistance,” Professor Elizabeth Wellington, from the University of Warwick, who led the study, told the Independent.
“This is a big deal, this is the most common bacterial resistance gene causing failures in treatment of infections, and it’s the first time anyone has seen this gene in UK rivers,” she added.
River water is used to irrigate crops, and people swim and canoe in rivers, meaning that animals and humans frequently come into contact with river water. Bactria also spread when rivers flood.
Wellington said that stricter regulations are needed in how sewage is treated, and that untreated sewage must not be discharged into rivers during storms as is sometimes the case.
“We’re on the brink of Armageddon and this is contributing to it. Antibiotics could just stop working,” she said.
The Prime Minster, David Cameron warned earlier this month that the world could be “cast back into the dark ages” with people dying of trivial infections because of the surge in drug resistant bacteria.
There is also considerable concern among scientists that the HIV virus is becoming resistant to the antiretroviral drugs used to treat it since the 1990s.