Are antibiotic resistant bacteria the new global epidemic?

Study says 131 antibiotic-resistant genes (ARGs) material, including blaNDM-1 gene first found in India in 2008, has been found in the Arctic

By Meenakshi Sushma
Published: Tuesday 29 January 2019
Representational Photo: Getty Images
Representational Photo: Getty Images Representational Photo: Getty Images

After World health Organisation WHO released top 10 threats to global health in 2019, among which antimicrobial resistance (AR) accounted for a huge contribution with 1.6 million deaths every year due to the tuberculosis drug resistant microbe.

The next big twist in the story is that these AR microbes have travelled 8,000 miles and are currently present in remote parts of the earth, states a recent study.

The study ‘Understanding drivers of antibiotic resistance genes in High Arctic soil ecosystems’ — led by Davis Graham, professor at Newcastle University, and published by Environment International journal on January 28, 2019 — shows that a total of 131 Antibiotic-Resistant Genes (ARGs) material were detected, among which the blaNDM-1 gene, first found in surface water in India in 2008, has spread to the Arctic in just 11 years.

We are aware that AR bacteria has been increasing due to overuse of antibiotics for treating diseases as well as its use as a growth promoter in poultry. Poor management of farm waste has been blamed for this bacteria’s spread.

But Graham says that there are other pathways as well, through with the bacteria is spreading. He points to how these bacteria are carried in the gut of animals and people, and were likely spread through the faecal matter of these animals, humans as well as migratory birds.

Hence, the scientists say that this is no more a local problem and has to be looked as a global health concern. Annually, 700,000 deaths occur worldwide due to the AR bacteria, says a report titled “anti-microbial resistance benchmark”. 

The report says that more research is required in this field to understand the patterns and pathways and to win the fight against the superbug. Also improved surveillance in remote areas is required to monitor the spread of these microbes. The report adds that improved waste management system and water quality at a global scale is key to win the superbug fight.


India has witnessed an increase in antibiotic consumption — about 65 per cent in 2015 compared to 2000, while the rate of consumption increased from 3.2 to 6.5 billion daily defined doses (DDDs) in the same period.

India surpassed the United States’ antibiotic consumption rate for oxazolidinones in 2012 to become the highest consumer of the drug, says a study published by PNAS journal on April 10, 2018

On the other hand, a report published by the New Delhi-based Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP) in November 2017 says that over 70 per cent of acinetobacterbaumannii bacteria and 50 per cent of pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria are resistant to broad-spectrum antibiotics like third generation cephalosporin.  

Broad-spectrum antibiotics are those that are effective against a wide range of disease-causing bacteria, in contrast to narrow-spectrum antibiotics, which are effective against specific families of bacteria.

“This news further reiterates the need to urgently address antimicrobial resistance through the lens of one (human, animal and environment) health. All countries need to work together to limit the spread of ARGs and antibiotics between humans, animals and the environment in the globalised world where we live. Even though national action plans have been laid down by most countries, these plans have yet to move from paper to the ground as antibiotics continue to be freely used for growth promotion in animals, for personal use without prescription as well as being discharged in our environment from hospitals, pharma factories and household waste. AMR is the ‘faceless’ crisis which threatens to wipe out our very existence,” says Jyoti Joshi, Head South Asia at Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, and adjunct professor at Amity Institute of Public Health, Noida.

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