OCT 05, 2021 8:36 AM PDT

Insects & Spiders Seem to Carry & Spread Antibiotic Resistance

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Antibiotic resistance is seen as a growing threat to public health, and scientists have been trying to develop new antibiotics to combat the problem. While antibiotic resistant infections are already thought to cause the deaths of tens of thousands of people every year, that number may rise dramatically in the coming decades to as many as ten million people per year by 2050, warns the World Health Organization. Scientists have now discovered a connection between antibiotic resistance and some insect and arachnid arthropods.

Image credit: Public domain pictures

Reporting in Nature Microbiology, researchers assessed samples taken in hospitals, from infections at surgical sites in patients, and arthropods, to learn more about how multidrug-resistant Enterobacterales are transmitted in a Pakistani public hospital. The work revealed that about 20 percent of ants, cockroaches, flies, moths, and spiders carried a gene that confers resistance to carbapenem, a drug which can treat life-threatening infections. About 70 to 80 percent of these insects carried genes that enable microbes to resist beta-lactam antibiotics, which include penicillins and cephalosporins.

These findings could become particularly significant in light of climate change. The global population of insects is expected to double if temperatures rise by 1.5ºC, which is already close. The research estimated that in 2080, there may be 50,000 trillion flies in the world that can spread carbapenem resistance.

Although new drugs might help us solve this problem, they are usually difficult to develop. It also takes time to prove new drugs are safe to use. We can also try to reduce the spread of antibiotic resistance, which may be increasing for many reasons. It's been suggested that the widespread use of antibiotics in agriculture is one reason why antibiotic resistant microbes are becoming more common. The improper and misuse of antibiotics may be another. Antibiotic resistance genes can also easily spread through the environment, and bacteria are naturally able to easily pick up new pieces of DNA and put them to use.

"Similar to our experience over the last eighteen months with the pandemic, a problem currently seen from afar will quickly come into focus much closer to home. The clinical burden of AMR is most felt in low-middle income countries, but the increase in global temperatures, due to climate change, will result in a significant increase in flies and many other insects and a subsequent increase in the global velocity of antibiotic resistance," noted study co-author Professor Tim Walsh of Oxford University.

It may also be possible to repurpose existing drugs, or redeploy drugs, which were developed for people but deemed unsuitable after stringent safety testing, for use in agriculture.

This crisis won't be easily solved, and will require a global effort, added Walsh.

Sources: University of Oxford, Nature Microbiology

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
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