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ALERT: Air Pollution Could Promote Antibiotic-Resistant Respiratory Infections

Mar 06, 2017 08:50 AM EST
Air Pollution
Air pollution could influence infection-causing bacteria in the body, making them stronger and more resistant to antibiotics.
(Photo : Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

A new multidisciplinary study from the University of Leicester revealed that air pollution could influence infection-causing bacteria in the body, making them stronger and more resistant to antibiotics.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Microbiology, showed that a major component of air pollution could directly affect the way bacteria grow and form communities.

"Our research could initiate an entirely new understanding of how air pollution affects human health," said Dr Julie Morrissey, an Associate Professor in Microbial Genetics at University of Leicester and lead author of the study in a press release. "It will lead to enhancement of research to understand how air pollution leads to severe respiratory problems and perturbs the environmental cycles essential for life"

For the study, the researchers focused on bacteria that are considered to be major causes of respiratory infections, Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae. Both bacteria is also known for their ability to develop high levels of resistance to known antibiotics.

The researchers found that black carbon, a major component of air pollution, alters the way how the bacteria grow and from communities. These changes could influence survival rate of the bacteria on the lining of respiratory tracts and how well they could hide or combat the body's immune system.

Additionally, black carbon alters the antibiotic tolerance of Staphylococcus aureus communities, while Streptococcus pneumoniae develops increased resistance to penicillin. The researchers also found that black carbon causes Streptococcus pneumonia to spread from the nose to the lower respiratory tract.

The urbanization of so-called megacities with high levels of air pollution is considered to be a major risk factor for human health in many parts of world. Black carbon is a major component of air pollution produced through the burning of fossil fuels such as diesels, biofuels and biomass.

Dubbed as the "largest single environmental health risk" by the World Health Organization, air pollution is thought to be responsible for at least seven million deaths every year. About 4.3 million of deaths due to air pollution in 2012 were linked to indoor air pollution, while 3.7 million deaths were attributed to outdoor pollution.

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