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Biggest Biosecurity Threat? Antibiotic Resistance

by talk2sarahw 1 min read18th Feb 20205 comments

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Is anyone doing or has done research on antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotic resistance is a one of the top 10 public health issues, according to WHO. It is projected to take more lives than cancer to become the leading cause of mortality by 2050 (O'Neill, 2014). It currently takes 200,000 children's lives worldwide (Costello, 2016). However, one in two Americans (K-12 students and adults, separately) do not know appropriate antibiotic use for bacterial, not viral infections (Funk & Goo, ‎2015). Similarly, one in two cases of AR is from antibiotic misuse per year (Ventola, 2015). This association is uncanny and must be remediated with education. Antibiotic resistance is the heart of biosecurity as a global catastrophic biological risk.

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Hi, To be honest I just stumbled across EA from a google search looking for suitable charities to donate a portion of money too concerning the locusts situation in the Horn of Africa. So I'll say its a very impressive forum you have here and well done all for taking part, its great to see personally.


As to the topic at hand as a recent open university mature student one of my projects was on antibiotic resistance in the environment - specifically wastewater concentrations. There is a big problem with antibiotics being used in animal farming and the use in humans leading to environmental accumulations. Human use is often not metabolised by the body and excreted in active form where antibiotic resistance may develop in water treatment plants (WWTP) and water treatment sinks. In general our 1950s style sewage treatment isn't very good at removing these, or other persistent pollutants as well.


One of the papers I found "Review of Antimicrobial Resistance in the environment and its Relevance to Environmental regulators", Singer et al from NERC, wallingford, UK gave a really excellent background. I was deeply impressed as well by Switzerlands plans to upgrade half their WWTPs. Much of how much environmental contamination contributes seems largely unknown - I remember its the above NERC paper that lists heavy metals and other locally occuring conditions as co-factors although there are a few others.

Anyway I'm a big out of my depth for now, I wish I'd found you guys earlier on in my life, but will be keeping an eye out on this as things progress in my life. I hope some of the above is helpful.

Welcome to the Forum! Thanks for asking an interesting question.

I'm not aware of any EA funding going toward antibiotic resistance, though it was the subject of an Open Philanthropy shallow cause writeup (and there may be funding I don't know about). 

Also, I'd recommend you include links to the papers you are citing to make it easier for people to follow your argument (you can highlight text in the Forum's editor to get a "link" button that lets you add a URL).

Finally, while I don't know much about this topic in particular, "1 in 2 Americans don't know how to use antibiotics appropriately" plus "1 in 2 cases of resistance come about as the result of antibiotic misuse" doesn't seem to necessarily imply that education is the best way to respond to AR issues. 

For example, we could change the way doctors prescribe antibiotics to make misuse less likely without changing the way we educate patients (see this example from the UK's Behavioural Insights team). We may also wind up focusing on resistance that comes from sources other than misuse, if there are effective solutions in those areas. Sometimes, the most effective way to work on a problem doesn't involve tackling its biggest sub-problem.