Air pollution, by some estimates, is the cause of one in six deaths worldwide.
But air pollution’s impact could be worse than previously thought, according to research investigating how it spreads resistance to antibiotics.
In what the authors claim to be the first analysis to show how air pollution affects antibiotic resistance globally, a research team headed by Professor Dr Chen Hong of Zhejiang University in China, said they have put together “strong evidence that increasing levels of air pollution are associated with increased risk of antibiotic resistance”.
Antibiotic resistance is feared to be killing at least half a million, and potentially up to 6.5 million people, worldwide every year, with around two-thirds of them in Asia.
Writing up their findings for The Lancet Planetary Health medical journal, the team, which included University of Cambridge researchers from the United Kingdom, went through data from 116 countries between 2000 and 2018.
The research points to North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia as having “the highest levels of antibiotic resistance”, with Europe and North America the lowest.
They warned that antibiotic-resistant bacteria in hospitals or livestock farming “could be transmitted to sewage treatment facilities or ecosystems, and could even be emitted from these settings into the atmosphere and be exposed to humans through inhalation”.
But if air health quality can be improved, or recovered to past levels, it could reduce antimicrobial resistance by 17% and prevent almost a quarter of the related premature deaths, according to the researchers.
”This work suggests the benefits of controlling air pollution could be two-fold: Not only will it reduce the harmful effects of poor air quality, it could also play a major role in combating the rise and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” says Prof Chen. – dpa