Recognising the role of the environment in the global spread of antibiotic resistance

March 12, 2013, Bangor University

Antibiotic resistance has been recognised in recent years as a major healthcare problem, however, a paper in The Lancet Infectious Diseases reviewing the issue on a global scale, concludes that, not enough attention is given to the critical role that the natural environment plays in the cycling of antibiotics and the associated development of resistance by bacteria.

The paper, by 12 scientists from UK universities and the NHS, concludes that the potential global threat posed by the continued evolution of antibiotic resistance in (e.g. E. coli) found in both hospitals and the environment provides a grave and imminent threat to public health that should be urgently addressed.

According to the review, there is now sufficient evidence to support the hypothesis that one of the most important emerging public health threats is the large-scale spread of strains of serious-illness-inducing germs for which there is no effective . Prof Davey Jones states that "we take it for granted that if we get a thorn in our finger and it turns septic or a tooth infection that we can take antibiotics to cure it. In the future this just won't always be possible and the may spread to the rest of the body. The consequences of this don't bear thinking about. It will be like returning to ."

Bangor University contributing author Dr Prysor Williams explains: "The basic problem is that the antibiotics we currently use can persist in the environment, having been administered to treat humans or animals and then excreted, or as a result of pollution at source during manufacture. Once in the environment, this creates potential for pathogens that come into contact with these antibiotics to mutate, sometimes making them resistant. These mutations can then spread to other related in the environment.

This threat is increased by recent changes in demographics, the misuse of antibiotics in healthcare and agriculture, their incomplete breakdown during sewage treatment and following release into the environment.

"We suggest that, globally, we need to address strategies to avoid this potential public health disaster. As well as searching for new antibiotics we need to develop smart antibiotics that have a shorter life-span in the environment. This would be combined with more responsible control of the release of antibiotics into the wider environment through improved sewage and animal waste management, and educating people about the scale of the problem" explained Dr Paul Cross.

Explore further: Research suggests the consequences of overuse of antibiotics is now reaching the Amazon

More information: doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(12)70317-1

Related Stories

Research suggests the consequences of overuse of antibiotics is now reaching the Amazon

February 19, 2013
A major review recently published in Frontiers of Microbiology examines the broader issues associated with widespread antibiotic resistance. The paper, by Professor Michael Gillings from Macquarie University, discussed the ...

Small amounts of antibiotics generate big problems

July 22, 2011
New research conducted at Uppsala University shows that extremely low concentrations of antibiotics can enrich for antibiotic resistant bacteria. The research suggests that antibiotic residue introduced to the environment ...

Drug-resistant infections: A new epidemic, and what you can do to help

November 10, 2011
(Medical Xpress)—Are you aware that colds, flu, most sore throats and bronchitis are caused by viruses? Did you know that antibiotics do not help fight viruses and that using them for viral infections only decreases their ...

Roads pave the way for the spread of superbugs

September 29, 2011
Antibiotic resistant E. coli was much more prevalent in villages situated along roads than in rural villages located away from roads, which suggests that roads play a major role in the spread or containment of antibiotic ...

Recommended for you

Creation of synthetic horsepox virus could lead to more effective smallpox vaccine

January 19, 2018
UAlberta researchers created a new synthetic virus that could lead to the development of a more effective vaccine against smallpox. The discovery demonstrates how techniques based on the use of synthetic DNA can be used to ...

Study ends debate over role of steroids in treating septic shock

January 19, 2018
The results from the largest ever study of septic shock could improve treatment for critically ill patients and save health systems worldwide hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

New approach could help curtail hospitalizations due to influenza infection

January 18, 2018
More than 700,000 Americans were hospitalized due to illnesses associated with the seasonal flu during the 2014-15 flu season, according to federal estimates. A radical new approach to vaccine development at UCLA may help ...

Zika virus damages placenta, which may explain malformed babies

January 18, 2018
Though the Zika virus is widely known for a recent outbreak that caused children to be born with microencephaly, or having a small head, and other malformations, scientists have struggled to explain how the virus affects ...

Certain flu virus mutations may compensate for fitness costs of other mutations

January 18, 2018
Seasonal flu viruses continually undergo mutations that help them evade the human immune system, but some of these mutations can reduce a virus's potency. According to new research published in PLOS Pathogens, certain mutations ...

Study reveals how MRSA infection compromises lymphatic function

January 17, 2018
Infections of the skin or other soft tissues with the hard-to-treat MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria appear to permanently compromise the lymphatic system, which is crucial to immune system function. ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.