An antibiotic-resistant bacteria was discovered for the first time in Los Angeles County and experts are concerned, saying the fast-spreading bacteria poses great health risks, especially for those who are immunocompromised.

The super bacteria was found by USC professor Adam Smith and his team at the two largest wastewater facilities in L.A. County — Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant in Playa del Rey and the Joint Water Pollution Control Plant in Carson.

The bacteria and its associated gene renders colistin, a “last resort” antibiotic, completely ineffective. Colistin is used for serious infections or conditions that can’t be treated with or haven’t responded to antibiotics like penicillin.

Smith said although this particular type of antibiotic-resistant gene has been found elsewhere in the world, this is the first time it’s been found in L.A.

He said wastewater is a good indication of the public’s overall health which is why testing should be done regularly to track down burgeoning illnesses.

  • Antibiotic-resistant super bacteria found for the first time in Los Angeles County. (KTLA)
  • Antibiotic-resistant super bacteria found for the first time in Los Angeles County. (KTLA)
  • Antibiotic-resistant super bacteria found for the first time in Los Angeles County. (KTLA)

Smith said the reason for the bacteria’s presence could be attributed to the pandemic when there was an increased intake of antibiotics worldwide. Prior to the pandemic, there was more emphasis on programs that would dissuade physicians from over-prescribing antibiotics.

“It’s important to realize that antibiotics are overprescribed by many medical professionals whether or not it’s necessarily needed,” said Smith.

He notes that overprescribing is a problem because the bacteria left behind when using antibiotics are antibiotic-resistant and with overuse he says, “we are propagating antibiotic-resistant bacteria. If they become resistant, we’re potentially getting to a place where antibiotics are no longer usable to combat those infections. Then we have to come up with new antibiotics or other therapies that could.”

Smith said beyond monitoring what happens at the doctor’s office and point-of-care, there should be more frequent and continuous monitoring of wastewater and the surrounding microbial community.

“We need to think about wastewater treatment plants and how they could be better designed to actually combat antibiotic resistance so that it’s not getting out into the environment,” said Smith.

During the pandemic, scientists were able to pinpoint infection at the community and building level which allowed for targeted health interventions. Smith said testing wastewater could be very useful for a senior care facility or a place that poses a higher risk of exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Smith said if the issue isn’t addressed, “antibiotic resistance could be the next pandemic.”