Calling all outdoor swimmers - researchers want to analyse your poo

Researchers want to analyse poo samples from wild swimmers to help identify pollution risks in rivers and the sea.

More and more people are embracing the health and wellbeing benefits of wild swimming, surfing, and other outdoor water activities.

But the UK's coastal and fresh waters are at risk from sewage and run-off pollution from farms, researchers say.

Contact with contaminated natural waters can cause a range of issues including ear infections, skin rashes, respiratory illness, diarrhoea and stomach cramps, as well as exposing people to bacteria which are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics.

The University of Exeter's Poo-Sticks project is recruiting participants who regularly swim in UK rivers and lakes to discover how wild swimmers might acquire antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as "superbugs".

Participants will be asked to provide a faecal sample using a pre-paid postal kit and share information about their recent swimming activities, dietary habits, and overall lifestyle and health.

PhD student Elitsa Penkova, who is leading the project, said: "A lot of people carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their guts, yet they're completely unaware of it.

"But if bacteria causing an infection are resistant to antibiotics, then the treatment won't work, which may lead to more severe illness.

"This is a major issue, and we hope our findings will help inform strategies for reducing the spread of antimicrobial resistant bacteria."

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Hannah Pearson, from Dartington in Devon, regularly gets up before 6am for a pre-work dip in the River Dart.

The ritual started when her lung capacity reduced after contracting COVID-19, and she believes it helped her road to recovery.

The mother-of-two said: "There's something very special about being immersed in cold, natural water. I love the privilege of witnessing and being close to nature, although I feel there are fewer fish around these days.

"You also feel amazing physiological effects. I feel energised and joyful after I swim.

"Yet in the past few years, we noticed people getting sick. I recently had a nasty skin infection which left a rash all over my body after I swam in the river."

In response, Hannah set up Friends of the River Dart, which will help circulate the Poo-Sticks study which she says is "vital" research.