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Drug-Resistant Bacteria Live in America's Water Systems

Bacteria found in plumbing may sicken thousands each year

faucet water

FRIDAY, Sept. 23, 2016 (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 Sept. 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, M.D., of the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, told HealthDay.

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 percent of hospitalizations. Not only are antibiotic-resistant bacteria much more dangerous for patients, but treating such cases boosts costs by 10 to 40 percent, 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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