Study finds potential link between antimicrobial resistance and climate change

15 Apr 2019

Image: © sinhyu/

While still too early to tell for sure, new research suggests that the growth in antimicrobial resistance may be linked to the onset of climate change.

Medical health professionals are seriously worried about the growing number of reported cases of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). This comes after decades of misuse and the pharmaceutical industry’s lack of urgency or ability to find and manufacture new antibiotics.

Now, research presented at the recent European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Amsterdam may have found the first link between antimicrobial resistance and another potentially devastating issue: climate change.

The study was conducted at the Institute of Infection Control and Infectious Diseases at the University Medical Center Göttingen and Hannover Medical School in Germany.

The possibility that AMR and climate change might be linked first gained attention when it was noticed that AMR increased with rising temperatures in the US. This latest research, however, investigated whether this also held up in Europe, with a diverse range in healthcare systems.

This involved an observational study among 30 countries with data on the prevalence of carbapenem-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa (CRPA), Klebsiella pneumoniae (CRKP), multiresistant Escherichia coli (MREC) and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) over a period of six years.

Lead author of the study, Prof Simone Scheithauer, and the rest of her team then ran statistical analysis and computer modelling to see if there were any links between AMR and seasonal temperature, including potential socioeconomic and health system-related confounders.

‘AMR is a serious threat to communities worldwide’

The team found strong associations of CRKP, MREC and MRSA with the warm season mean temperature, which had a higher contribution to MRSA variance than outpatient antimicrobial drug use. Additionally, a rise in CRPA was significantly associated with the warm season change in temperature.

“Our study identified a novel association between AMR and climatic factors in Europe,” the authors wrote in the study, yet to be peer-reviewed. “These results reveal two aspects: climatic factors significantly contribute to the prediction of AMR in different types of healthcare systems and societies, while climate change might increase AMR transmission, in particular carbapenem resistance.”

Speaking to Newsweek, Scheithauer stressed that these were early results, but they raise serious concerns about the existence of a link between AMR and climate change.

“At this stage we cannot make any recommendations for the future. We need further research to know more about this potential association. We need to monitor future developments and collect additional data,” she said.

“The increase of AMR is a serious threat to communities worldwide, and this is known to everyone.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic