NUIG seeks swimmers’ help to study superbugs in the water

Galway Daily news NUIG investigates superbugs in swimmers
Dr. Liam Burke of NUI Galway pictured at Blackrock, Salthill in Galway. Photograph by Aengus McMahon

A new study from NUIG is calling on swimmers and surfers to help determine if recreational water users are more at risk of picking up superbugs.

The PIER study (Public Health Impact of Exposure to antibiotic Resistance in recreational waters) hopes to recruit 300 people to take part.

This would be made of one group of 150 sea swimmers, surfers and people who regularly use the sea, lakes or rivers for recreation, along with a second group of 150 people who rarely take to the water.

“In healthy people antibiotic resistant bacteria behave very similarly to other common bugs,” said Prof Dearbháile Morris, lead investigator of the project, adding that these bugs can live harmlessly on the skin, or in the nose and bowels.

“This is called colonisation. As long as a bug stays on the skin or in the bowel, it usually does not cause a problem.”

However, once a superbug gets into a wound, into the bladder or into the blood, it can cause an infection that can be difficult to treat.

“This mostly happens in sick or vulnerable people with weaker immune systems, such as those in intensive care, the very old or the very young, and special antibiotics are then required for treatment, as ordinary antibiotics do not work.”

The study is being carried out by the Antimicrobial Resistance and Microbial Ecology Research Group at NUIG, with funding from the EPA.

A key goal will be understanding how superbugs get into human populations, particularly to help scientists learn how to control the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

It’s hoped this will improve policy on the monitoring of antibiotic resistance, and the release of waste containing superbugs to recreational waters.

“Some superbugs are now very common in the environment due to increased antibiotic use in humans and animals and the release of sewage,” said Dr Liam Burke, Co-Investigator on the PIER project.

“Although bathing waters are routinely tested for some bacteria, they are not tested for antibiotic resistant bacteria, so we don’t really know to what extent they are present.”

“PIER will look into whether people who regularly use Irish waters for recreation are at risk of becoming colonised with superbugs.”

For more information and to register to take part visit