Researchers find correlation between rising temperatures, antibiotic resistance

BOSTON — Epidemiologists and other scientists have blamed antibiotic resistance on the repeated exposure thanks to doctors over-prescribing these medicines. But research suggests that rising temperatures may have an affect on antibiotic resistance as well.

A team of epidemiologists from Boston Children’s Hospital and the University of Toronto studied local temperatures, population densities, and bacterial antibiotic resistance in patients in the U.S. and found connections between these factors and antibiotic resistance.

“Estimates outside of our study have already told us that there will already be a drastic and deadly rise in antibiotic resistance in coming years,” says co-senior author John Brownstein, PhD, Chief Innovation Officer and director of the Computational Epidemiology Group at Boston Children’s, in a release. “But with our findings that climate change could be compounding and accelerating an increase in antibiotic resistance, the future prospects could be significantly worse than previously thought.”

The researchers compiled a database of antibiotic resistance markers and information relating to several common strains of bacteria, including E. coli, K. pneumoniae, and S. aureus. They sifted through various data sets from hundreds of U.S. hospitals detailing hospital, laboratory, and disease surveillance information between 2013 and 2015.

The research team then compared antibiotic resistance indicators to the latitude and average temperature of the facilities studied. Average minimum temperature increases of 10 or more degrees Celsius correlated to 4.2, 2.2, and 3.6 percent increases in antibiotic resistant strains of E. coli, K. pneumoniae, and S. aureus, respectively.

“The effects of climate are increasingly being recognized in a variety of infectious diseases, but so far as we know this is the first time it has been implicated in the distribution of antibiotic resistance over geographies,” says lead author, Dr. Derek MacFadden, an infectious disease specialist and research fellow at Boston Children’s. “We also found a signal that the associations between antibiotic resistance and temperature could be increasing over time.”

Researchers say that for every increase of 10,000 people per square mile in the cities studied, antibiotic resistant E. coli and K. pneumoniae strains increased three and six percent respectively.

“The bottom line is that our findings highlight a dire need to invest more research efforts into improving our understanding of the interconnectedness of infectious disease, medicine and our changing environment,” says Brownstein.

The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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