Scientists are concerned that the rise in world temperatures will increase the difficulty of stopping the spread of drug-resistant bacteria, referred to by the World Health Organization as the “silent pandemic.”
Antimicrobial resistance, labeled by the World Health Organization as the “silent pandemic,” is a growing global health crisis often overlooked. The United Nations health agency previously declared that antimicrobial resistance is one of the top 10 global threats to human health, estimating that around 1.3 million people die each year directly due to resistant pathogens.
The World Health Organization warns that this number is on track to “significantly increase” if urgent measures are not taken, leading to higher overall health, economic, and social costs and pushing more people into poverty, especially in low-income countries.
Antimicrobials, including life-saving antibiotics and antivirals, are drugs used for preventing and treating infections in humans and animals. However, their excessive and inappropriate use is a major driver of antimicrobial resistance.
Antimicrobial resistance occurs when microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites develop the ability to survive or even grow despite the presence of drugs designed to kill them.
To make matters worse, research has shown that climate change exacerbates the crisis of antimicrobial resistance in several ways.
Tina Joshi, Assistant Professor in Molecular Microbiology in the United Kingdom, said, “The higher our temperatures rise, the more infectious diseases that can spread – including antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”
She added, “Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are known as a silent pandemic because no one knows about it, and it is truly sad that no one seems to care.”
Impact of Temperatures A report by the United Nations Environment Programme earlier this year titled “Immunization Against Antibiotic-Resistant Germs” explains the role of climate crisis and other environmental factors in the development, spread, and transmission of antimicrobial resistance.
These factors include the rise in temperatures associated with the spread of antibiotic-resistant genes among microorganisms, the emergence of antimicrobial resistance due to continued disruption in extreme weather events, and increased pollution creating favorable conditions for resistance development.
Scientists earlier this month said an unusual series of global temperature records indicates that 2023 is “almost certain” to be the hottest year ever.
The Next Pandemic Thomas Schinecker, CEO of the Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche, said last month that policymakers are at risk of failing to learn the necessary lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that this could have serious implications for the health crisis of antimicrobial resistance.
Schinecker said, “I don’t think we’ve learned the lessons we should have learned from the last pandemic, and I don’t think we’re better prepared for the next one.”
He continued, “I think it’s important that we learn these lessons and do what we need to do to prepare because the next pandemic will come.”
He added, “One of the concerns I have is that antibiotic-resistant bacteria could be this pandemic. And we need to focus on preparing for such situations in the future.”