Study World’s rivers are contaminated with antibiotics
29 May, 2019, 22:33
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria is considered a global health emergency, the United Nations said last month and the problem could kill 10 million people by 2050. They peaked in Bangladesh, where metronidazole, used to treat vaginal infections, was found at more than 300 times the safe level.
The research involved the 14 most commonly used antibiotics, which were found at 65-percent of monitored rivers across 72 countries.
Discharge of untreated wastewater containing antibiotics, excreted by humans and animals, into soil and rivers is a primary source of the contamination.
The researchers found that Ghana, Bangladesh, Kenya, Nigeria and Pastikan were home to the most contaminated rivers.
Meanwhile, 15 percent of river sites tested in North America and 18 percent of river sites in South America contained unsafe levels of the drugs.
Researchers recorded a concentration of 233 nanograms per litre (ng/l), whereas in Bangladesh the concentration was 170 times higher than this.
Eight percent of sites tested in Europe exceeded safe limits including the Danube, the most polluted on the continent, and the Thames, where unsafe levels of five antibiotics - including ciprofloxacin, which treats urinary tract and skin infections - were found.
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Even if relatively low levels of the drugs are found in rivers, it could still increase the likelihood of the development and spread of antibiotic resistance, researchers said.
Samples taken from the Danube in Austria contained seven antibiotics including clarithromycin, used to treat respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis, at almost four times the level considered safe.
Dealing with the logistical challenge of transporting 92 samples collected from various rivers around the world, researchers managed to fly back frozen samples to the University of York for testing.
"Many scientists and policy makers now recognise the role of the natural environment in the antimicrobial resistance problem". Earlier studies were from Europe, North America and China, and only a handful of antibiotics have been tested for. "Our data show that antibiotic contamination of rivers could be an important contributor", he added. "We know very little about the scale of the problem globally".
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