Dr. Mark Sobsey, Kenan Distinguished Professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, has received a competitive pilot research grant from the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases (IGHID) and UNC Program in Nicaragua (ProNica) to evaluate water-borne antimicrobially resistant bacteria (ARB) in León, Nicaragua, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
[This open sewage ditch in Nicaragua flows into a nearby river. UNC’s Dr. Mark Sobsey works with researchers at the National University of Nicaragua in León to study how E. coli and other bacteria excreted through waste from hospital patients make their way into community sewage, putting people at risk for exposure to it. Photo by Mr. Jerry Peralta.]
IGHID and ProNica awarded three diverse programs, including Dr. Sobsey’s, to support infectious diseases research and collaboration between faculty members of UNC-Chapel Hill and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua, León (UNAN). The grant will support the work in Nicaragua through July.
Dr. Sobsey, working with UNAN co-investigators Drs. Daniel Reyes and Samuel Vilchez, will determine the extent to which antibiotic-resistant fecal bacteria which have caused illness in hospital patients are being released into the environment through hospital sewage. Dr. Sobsey and colleagues will examine the levels of these bacteria, including E. coli and Klebsiella pneumonia, which have made their way to community sewage, putting people at risk for exposure through contact with sewage or sewage-contaminated water.
“We are trying to better understand and quantify the extent to which environmental pathways – such as drinking water, recreational water and agricultural use of human waste water – result in human exposures that contribute to the known disease burdens caused by ARB,” Dr. Sobsey said. “This is now a high priority concern of the World Health Organization and others who are now developing a global action plan to better combat the health threats posed by ARB.”
In related research, Dr. Sobsey recently was funded by the National Science Foundation to study the survival and disinfection of Ebola virus in sewage.