Is Climate Change contributing to Antimicrobial Resistance?

Environment Transmission

Global temperatures have increased by about 1ºC in the past century and is continuing to rise. Currently, countries around the world are working towards the targets set out in the Paris Agreement to keep the global temperature rise below 2ºC. The aim is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as fast as possible. Rising levels of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide causes high temperatures. These gases act as warming blanket around the earth, trapping the sun’s energy causing the earth to warm at a faster rate. Increase in greenhouse gases is almost entirely due to human activity like deforestation which reduces the number of trees absorbing carbon dioxide.

Antimicrobial Resistance(AMR) is a growing public health concern. It occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change over time and no longer respond to drugs designed to kill them, making infections harder to treat and medical procedures much riskier. Antibiotic use in animals also increases the risk of transmitting drug resistant bacteria to humans directly through contact or indirectly through the food chain and environment.

Bacteria can develop resistance by either production of enzymes which inactivates the drug rendering it ineffective against the bacterium, through mutations or by horizontal gene transfer.

Although antibiotic use has been presumed to be the main force behind the rise of antibiotic resistance, Climate Change could also be a contributing factor to antimicrobial resistance.

A study led by Derek R. MacFadden found that rising regional temperatures may contribute to spread of AMR and suggested that higher temperatures might allow faster growth of bacteria or drive increased carriage rates. Bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus thrive in temperatures between 40-140ºF and as temperature rise, the bacteria reproduce faster increasing transmission. It is also suggested that warmer temperatures may affect the way bacteria respond to certain drug mechanisms. However, further investigation to support this is needed as he added that it was difficult to say exactly what process temperature is affecting.

Increase in temperature may cause animals such as fish,birds or elephants to migrate in search of habitat, food or water. They may be a source of zoonotic infections and the antimicrobial resistant zoonotic bacteria present, may be passed to humans during contact.

As temperatures continue to rise, the risk of agricultural drought increases thus promoting reduced food production. Agricultural productivity ultimately lowers causing decreased growth and development and increased poverty in agricultural dependent economies. Poverty driven health practices such as buying of cheap poor quality drugs consequently occurs. This causes AMR to rise as the drugs are ineffective.

Increased temperature also causes heat stress in animals such as pigs leading to loss of appetite.They further end up not gaining forcing farmers to use doses of antibiotics in their feed to increase their growth rate and productivity. However,long period use of antibiotics retain the strains of bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics.These bacteria are then passed to other animals or humans through contact(directly or indirectly).

Disease burden

Antimicrobial resistance infections result in at least 700,000 deaths worldwide each year.Globally, it is projected that by 2050, drug-resistant diseases could cause 10 million deaths each year and a 2 to 23.5 percent decrease (equivalent to USD 100 trillion) in global Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

This money could instead be spent to help fight climate change.

It is more than a scientific problem: What next?

There is call for urgent action to prevent antimicrobial resistance crisis. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. It is a crisis, there is need for a system change, it should not be ignored.

For the goal of Net zero emission by 2050 to be accomplished, there is need to avoid burdening the future generations with greater impacts. A ‘One Health’ approach; working together in implementation of programs and policies to attain better public health outcomes for humans, animals and their environment. More evidence based research should be done to help inform better policies.

Everyone should take up the responsibility of taking care of the environment by stopping deforestation or adopting renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. There is need of more use of technologies such Artificial Intelligence that could predict or monitor climate change or AMR or even capture carbon emission in the air but this calls for huge investments. There is a financial gap, investors can help bridge this gap. Different measures also need to be implemented like adopting various action plans for different sectors like in transport sector: emission can be reduced through supporting public transport or using electric vehicles. All countries should try and build a climate resilience health system that is capable of responding and adapting to climate related issues. However, WHO states that developing countries will be the least able to manage without assistance. Therefore, the high income countries have the moral responsibility to deliver.

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