A new global study from the University of York in the U.K. found that the majority of the world’s rivers are contaminated by antibiotics, as reported by CNN. Samples taken from rivers in 72 different countries found antibiotics present in over 65 percent of them.
When testing river waters, researchers with the university looked for 14 commonly used antibiotics. The drugs found to most frequently exceed safe levels were Trimethoprim, used to treat urinary tract infections, and the bacteria-fighting Ciprofloxacin.
Of the 711 sites tested, including well-known rivers Chao Phraya, Danube, Mekong, Seine, Thames, Tiber, and Tigris, antibiotic levels frequently exceeded safe levels in the developing world. The worst case was found in Bangladesh, where Metronidazole, used to treat bacterial infections, was found to exceed safe quantities by 300 times.
Contamination was primarily found in rivers within Asia and Africa, with sites in Bangladesh, Kenya, Ghana, Pakistan, and Nigeria, responsible for the greatest quantities of antibiotics.
Despite the wide presence of antibiotic-contaminated rivers in the developing world, researchers were quick to point out that contamination was also found in sites in Europe, North America, and South America, making the antibiotic contamination a global problem.
100s of rivers around the world are awash with dangerously high levels of antibiotics, the largest study on the subject has found.#antibiotic pollution is one of the key routes by which bacteria are able develop resistance to the life-saving medicines.https://t.co/Sowske8SuL pic.twitter.com/Vb6QFL7BXZ— Microbes&Infection (@MicrobesInfect) May 27, 2019
John Wilkinson, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of York’s Department of Environment and Geography, is reportedly looking into the consequences of such large amounts of antibiotic contamination on humans and the environment.
“[The] real important part of the work is beginning to answer the question of: ‘So what?’ Or more specifically: ‘Does this contamination pose a risk to health in humans or the environment?'”
In the same vein, the United Nations has recently warned about the growing problem of resistance to antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals, and antiprotozoals. Researchers are attempting to undercover a link between antibiotic contamination and microbial resistance.
The United Nations’ Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance published a report estimating that by 2030, 10 million people may die per year due to drug-resistant diseases. These diseases already claim the lives of at least 700,000 people per year.
Alistair Boxall, professor of environmental science at York, believes that the results of the study are eye-opening and believes that they point toward the influence of antibiotic contamination on microbial resistance.
Boxall also expresses his fears about fixing the problem, commenting that cleaning up contaminated sites, investing in infrastructure for waste and wastewater treatment, and creating better regulations for controlling antibiotic contamination will be incredibly difficult.
“Solving the problem is going to be a mammoth challenge.”