Wastewater could indicate the levels of antibiotic resistance in a region


An international study has compared the number of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) found in water treatment plants across seven European countries, discovering that this correlates with the number of resistant bacteria in samples from across the region and antibiotic consumption in the area.

The study, published recently in Science Advances, correlated ARGs in wastewater with bacterial samples collected from patients in the region and overall antibiotic consumption. The team did highlight that modern, functioning treatment plants appear to be effective in removing antibiotic-resistant bacteria from water during the treatment process, although in certain conditions it could be possible for the plants to function as incubators of antibiotic resistance.

All of the countries investigated in the study had various ARGs in the wastewater entering their treatment plants. The number of resistance genes found in incoming wastewater was higher in Portugal, Spain, Cyprus, and Ireland than in Finland, Norway and Germany.

In addition, antibiotic use was noted to be relatively high in Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, and Ireland, whereas in Finland, Norway and Germany antibiotics are prescribed and used less. The amount of antibiotic resistance in these countries appeared to mirror the antibiotic use: individuals in Spain, Portugal, Cyprus and Ireland have more antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their bowels than those in Finland, Norway and Germany.

Author, Marko Virta (University of Helsinki, Finland) commented: “In this study, 11 of the 12 wastewater treatment plants under investigation mitigated the resistance problem, which seems to indicate that modern plants work well in this regard,”

“At the same time, an older plant or otherwise deficient purification process may end up increasing antibiotic resistance in the environment. We need more research findings from countries with high antibiotic consumption and less developed wastewater treatment practices.”

Assessing the risk associated with antibiotic resistance in wastewater is challenging and thus far there is an incomplete picture of the ARGs that could cause a danger to human health. Virta’s research group is currently initiating new projects in Asia and West Africa.

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Source: Pärnänen KMM, Narciso-da-Rocha C, Kneis D et al. Antibiotic resistance in European wastewater treatment plants mirrors the pattern of clinical antibiotic resistance prevalence. Science Adv. 5(3), eaau9124 (2019); www.helsinki.fi/en/news/health-news/wastewater-reveals-the-levels-of-antibiotic-resistance-in-a-region


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