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‘Last-resort’ antibiotic-resistant bacteria found along 4km of Chinese coastline

Published on 02/02/17 at 10:48am

Recent research has been published that reveals that a four kilometre stretch of coastline in China harboured bacteria resistant to the group of ‘last resort’ antibiotics. The study found a total of 259 resistance genes in the samples taken from estuaries, with resistance to almost all major classes of antibiotics used in humans and animals.

In particular, resistance genes in the bacteria to vancomycin, one of the ‘last resort’ antibiotics used in the treatment of septicaemia and lower respiratory tract, skin and bone infections, was found at all sample sites measured by researchers. This is of particular importance as the world’s supply of antibiotics becomes increasingly limited as antibiotic resistant infections, known otherwise as ‘superbugs’, become more prevalent worldwide.

“A recent study estimated a total of 53,800 tons of antibiotics were released to rivers and waterways in China during 2013, which raises general concerns about the effects of environmental exposure to antibiotics,” the study, published in Nature Microbiology, led by Yong-Guan Zhu, states. “Antibiotic residue and its correlation with ARGs (antibiotic resistance genes) suggest a significant degree of selection by antibiotic pollutants, either by direct selection or by co-selection via linkage with other resistance determinants”.

The battle against the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria has accelerated recently, as the threat posed by them to worldwide health is becoming more profound. Globally, it has led to 700,000 deaths and this is expected to rise to around 10 million by 2050.

China has committed to stopping the use of colistin, another last resort antibiotic, that is currently being used to promote growth in farm animals by 1 April of this year. This comes after a case of the first mcr-1 gene in E. coli, making it resistant to colistin, in a person in the US, in May of 2016. The worry is that this could lead to pan-resistant bacteria – effectively rendering all antibiotics nullified.

The increasing concern over the rise of superbugs has lead to increased action over antibiotics used, including the FDA recently implementing a new measure to limit the use of antibiotics to promote growth in livestock.

Ben Hargreaves

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