The more pollution, the more resistant to antibiotics, a study shows

By Gabriela Parés Penela, RFI

Bacterial resistance to antibiotics has become one of the greatest challenges to global health. According to the World Health Organization, this phenomenon will kill about 700,000 people a year and could become the leading cause of death globally by 2050 if the trend is not reversed.

In recent years, the incorrect use and misuse of antibiotics has accelerated the resistance of some bacteria to these drugs. This makes it increasingly difficult to treat infections such as pneumonia or tuberculosis, increasing mortality and medical costs.

Findings from a study recently published in The Lancet Planetary Health suggest that the rise in bacterial resistance to antibiotics may be linked to a second factor: air pollution.

The scientists’ analysis focused on one of the main pollutants in the atmosphere — PM2.5 fine particles. Based on information collected in 116 countries between 2000 and 2018, they concluded that as levels of PM2.5 particles in the air increased, so did antibiotic resistance.

These particles contain and transport resistant bacteria and antibiotic resistance genes, which are then transmitted from the environment into the human population, the researchers explained. However, evidence is still lacking to clearly understand the mechanisms underlying the relationship between pollution and antibiotic resistance. The authors maintain that while the two phenomena may be linked, it is impossible to establish a causal relationship between them.

Antibiotic resistance caused by pollution was linked to an estimated 480,000 premature deaths in 2018, the study claimed. They also said that without action to reduce pollution, global levels of antibiotic resistance could rise by 17% by 2050, with Africa and Asia most affected.

The results of this new study again point to the need to reduce air pollution levels not only to limit the problems associated with poor air quality, but also to prevent thousands of deaths from drug-resistant bacteria.

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