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A warmer world makes it harder to stop the spread of superbugs

by SuperiorInvest

A microbiologist at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology prepares a bacterial colony of the Streptococcus pyogenes strain on a blood agar plate.

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Already recognized as one of the major public health threats facing humanity today, there are fears that a warming world is making it more difficult to stop the insidious spread of drug-resistant superbugs.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which the World Health Organization has referred to as the “silent pandemic,” is an often-overlooked global health crisis that is on the rise.

The United Nations health agency has previously declared antimicrobial resistance one of the top 10 global threats to human health and says an estimated 1.3 million people die each year directly from resistant pathogens.

That figure is on track to “skyrocket dramatically” if urgent action is not taken, the WHO says, leading to higher public health, economic and social costs and pushing more people into poverty, particularly in low-income countries.

Antimicrobials, which include life-saving antibiotics and antivirals, are medications used to prevent and treat infections in humans and animals. However, its excessive and misuse is known to be the main driver of the phenomenon of antimicrobial resistance.

AMR occurs when microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites develop the ability to persist or even grow despite the presence of drugs designed to kill them.

People watch the wildfire that ravages a forest in Sikorahi, near Alexandroupoli, northern Greece, on August 23, 2023.

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To make matters worse, research has shown that climate change is exacerbating the antimicrobial resistance crisis in several ways.

“Climate change is intrinsically important because of what is happening on our planet and the problem is that the more our temperatures rise, the more infectious diseases can be transmitted, and that includes AMR bacteria,” said Tina Joshi, associate professor of Molecular microbiology at the University of the United Kingdom. Plymouth University, he told CNBC via video conference.

“The AMR bacteria is known as a silent pandemic. The reason it’s known is because no one knows about it, and it’s really sad that no one seems to care,” Joshi said.

A ‘completely broken’ diagnostic system

A report released by the United Nations Environment Program earlier this year, titled “Preparing for superbugs,” illustrates the role of the climate crisis and other environmental factors in the development, spread and transmission of the virus. antimicrobial resistance.

These include higher temperatures associated with the rate of spread of antibiotic resistance genes among microorganisms, the emergence of AMR due to continued disruption from extreme weather events, and increased pollution creating favorable conditions for insects to develop resistance.

Scientists said earlier this month that an extraordinary series of global temperature records means it is “virtually certain” that 2023 will be the warmest year on record. Extreme heat is fueled by the climate crisis, which is making extreme weather events more frequent and intense.

In some ways it comes down to the fact that it is not economically viable to invest in antibiotics and their development. And that’s something that’s shaking up the world of antimicrobials.

tina joshi

associate professor of molecular microbiology at the University of Plymouth

Robb Butler, director of the division of communicable diseases, environment and health at WHO Europe, described antimicrobial resistance as “an extremely pressing global health challenge.”

“It is a huge health burden and costs EU member states alone around €1.5 billion ($1.6 billion) a year in health costs, but also in lost productivity. So it is a phenomenal challenge.” “Butler told CNBC via phone.

Butler said he hoped the upcoming COP28 climate conference in the United Arab Emirates could provide a platform for international policymakers to start recognizing the association between the climate crisis and antimicrobial resistance. The United Arab Emirates will host the annual UN climate summit from November 30 to December 12.

“The problem is that, of course, antibiotics or antimicrobials are not that attractive for the industry to develop. They are expensive, they are high risk and we have not seen in the last 20 years antimicrobial drugs being developed with enough unique characteristics. to avoid resistance.”

“We hear people talk about this ‘silent pandemic,’ but it shouldn’t be silent. We should make more noise about it,” Butler said.

“You would imagine the [coronavirus] “The pandemic could have been a wake-up call, but we still don’t see enough attention on antimicrobial resistance.”

A Petri dish highlighting bacterial contamination of trays at the booth of Polygiene AB, which offers antimicrobial, antibacterial and anti-odor technology, at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany, Wednesday, June 15, 2022.

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Butler said perhaps his biggest concern was how to incentivize industry leaders to address antimicrobial resistance at a time when they are acutely aware that they would be better off investing in other areas of research and development, such as produce a highly profitable anti-obesity drug.

“For me, that’s what keeps me up at night,” Butler said. “I can think of how society could change through crises to use antibiotics more prudently so as not to develop antibiotic resistance. But if there is absolutely nothing in the pipeline with innovative features, then we will have lost,” he added. . “And that really worries me.”

This view was echoed by Joshi, from the University of Plymouth, who described the AMR diagnosis process as “completely broken” and called on policymakers to urgently revitalize this process.

“It’s not about profit,” he added. “It kind of comes down to the fact that it’s not economically viable to invest in antibiotics and their development. And that’s something that’s shaking up the antimicrobial world.”

The next pandemic?

Thomas Schinecker, chief executive of Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche, said last month that policymakers were in danger of failing to learn the necessary lessons from the coronavirus pandemic, adding that this could have serious ramifications for the crisis. health of antimicrobial resistance.

“I don’t think we learned the lessons we should have learned in the last pandemic, and I don’t think we’re better prepared for the next pandemic,” Schinecker told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Oct. 19. .

“I think it’s important that we take those learnings, that we implement what we have to do to be prepared because the next pandemic will come,” he continued.

“One of the concerns I have is that potentially antibiotic-resistant bacteria could be the cause of this pandemic. Therefore, we must focus on preparing for similar situations in the future.”

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