Spotlight 11/06/18 | Antibiotic resistance and local temperature

A recently-published letter to Nature Climate Change highlighted how crises produced by anthropogenic climate change and antimicrobial resistance might conceivably converge, redrawing geographies of resistance and treatment failure, and adducing potential correspondences with ecosystemic threats.

The letter outlines the development of a database of antibiotic resistance patterns in the continental USA, relating to specific infection events by three bacterial pathogens not susceptible to treatment with particular antibiotics, for the years 2013-2015. Resistance indices were linked with facility and regional characteristics, and multiple aspects of an association between minimum temperature and antibiotic resistance were evaluated.

Based on their study, and taking great care not to infer causality, the authors contend that “The associations between temperature and antibiotic resistance in [their] ecological study are consistent across most classes of antibiotics and pathogens and may be strengthening over time. These findings suggest that current forecasts of the burden of antibiotic resistance could be significant underestimates in the face of a growing population and climate change.”

Since the World Health Organization already identifies climate change as a driver of emerging infectious diseases and their changing global patterns, and, as the authors point out, “temperature is one of the most potent modifiers of bacterial growth rates”, the management of emerging resistance to antimicrobials can be added to the series of climate-sensitive concerns facing public health and global governance in the coming decades.

John Manton, head of the Humanities and Environmental Sciences pillar