The Role of Air Pollution in Antibiotic Resistance


Air pollution alters the efficacy of antibiotics and increases harm to the respiratory tract.

Air pollution may change the efficacy of antibiotic treatments and increases the risk of disease, a new study published inEnvironmental Microbiologyfound.

The investigators sought to examine the impact of air pollution—–particularly black carbon––on bacteria in the respiratory tract. Black carbon is produced through the burning of fossil fuels such as biomass, biofuels, and diesel.

The results of the study showed that black carbon alters the way bacteria grow and form communities, which can impact how they survive on the lining of the respiratory tract and evade and combat the body’s immune system.

“This work increases our understanding of how air pollution affects human health,” said lead author Dr Julie Morrissey. “It shows that the bacteria which cause respiratory infections are affected by air pollution, possibly increasing the risk of infection and the effectiveness of antibiotic treatment of these illnesses.

“Our research could initiate an entirely new understanding of how air pollution affects human health. It will lead to enhancement of research to understand how air pollution leads to severe respiratory problems and perturbs the environmental cycles essential for life.”

For the study, investigators focused on the human pathogensStaphylococcus aureusandStreptococcus pneumoniae. The results showed that black carbon alters the antibiotic tolerance ofS. aureuscommunities. It also increases the resistance of communities ofS. pneumoniaeto penicillin.

The investigators also found that black carbon causedS. pneumoniaeto spread from the nose to the lower respiratory tract.

“Urbanization in megacities with extreme levels of air pollution are major risk factors for human health in many parts of the world,” said investigator Julian Ketley. “Our research seeks to lead and participate in international research consortia of biologists, chemists, clinician, social scientists and urban planners. Together we will investigate how increasing urbanization promotes infectious disease.”

Air pollution accounts for a minimum of 7 million deaths per year, equal to about one-eighth of all global deaths.

“Everybody worldwide is exposed to air pollution every time they breath,” said investigators Drs Shane Hussey and Jo Purves. “It is something we cannot limit our exposure to as individuals, but we know that it can make us ill. So, we need to understand what it is doing to us, how it is making us unhealthy, and how we might be able to stop these effects.”

The World Health Organization has deemed air pollution as the single largest environmental health risk.

“The lead investigators have brought together their expertise in genetics, microbiology, and air pollution chemistry to provide truly multidisciplinary ground breaking insights,” said Paul Monks, a leading expert on air pollution. “This research has significant potential to initiate a global research effort to understand a hitherto unknown effect of air pollution and provide significant additional impetus to the control of pollution.”

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