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Researchers Find Signs of Drug-Resistant Bacteria in Harvey Flooding Samples

A new study gives scientists a better understanding of how the storm contaminated homes and bayous

Texas National Guard troops help rescue people from flooded homes in Houston during Hurricane Harvey.


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Researchers are getting a better understanding of how Hurricane Harvey’s floodwaters contaminated homes and bayous, with a new study finding signs of drug-resistant bacteria in water samples collected after the storm.

Scientists already knew that Harvey caused a spike in fecal bacteria, likely from sewage overflows at flooded wastewater treatment plants. But new research from a Rice University team led by Lauren Stadler found evidence of certain “indicator genes” that are essentially red flags for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The concern, Stadler says, is that people exposed to that bacteria could’ve wound up catching what doctors call “superbugs.”

“That’s when you get an infection that you can no longer treat with our normal course of antibiotics in a hospital setting,” Stadler says.

It’s not clear if anyone actually developed such an infection because of Harvey, but the study suggests it’s a risk after a home is flooded. Stadler says that’s why avoiding floodwaters if you have open wounds or a weak immune system is so important.

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