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Is Pharmaceutical Pollution Influencing Superbugs?

Posted June 13, 2017

Image credit: makunin via Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Superbugs are a hot topic, with more and more of these antibiotic-resistant bacteria and viruses mutating and appearing across the globe.

The popular belief is that these bugs are being created because of the overuse and overprescribing of antibiotics, and while this has likely contributed to the creation of these superbugs, new research has shown this might not be the only cause.

Is the pollution generated by pharmaceutical companies contributing to the mutation of treatment-resistant superbugs?

Pharmaceutical Pollution in Asia

Wastewater management presents a problem in countries like China and India, especially when it comes to pharmaceutical production. In areas where these pharmaceutical factories are located, samples have been tested to determine if waste is contributing to the development of antibiotic-resistant disease strains.

Upwards of 95 percent of the samples were found to contain strains of bacteria that are resistant to all antibiotics.

It was concluded that the lack of proper wastewater management was indeed contributing to the growth of these new strains of bacteria. Physical barriers have no effect on the spread of these bacteria — containing the wastewater doesn’t prevent the antibiotic-resistant strains from spreading outside of the initially contaminated area.

The Development Difference

In the United States, where the FDA is in charge of pharmaceutical production, there are a number of manufacturing practices in place, known as CGMPs or current good manufacturing practices. These ensure all medications being produced in U.S. factories are at the same level of quality.

This is also part of the reason that successfully trialed medications from other countries cannot be prescribed in the United States — everything has to make it through another round of peer-reviewed clinical trials that can be monitored by the FDA.

While U.S. companies put emphasis on meeting safety standards, it’s difficult to know what criteria must be met in other countries that produce pharmaceuticals for markets across the globe.

A Twofold Problem

There are two problems, other than the lack of wastewater management, that contribute to the development of these superbugs.

First, while the FDA ensures all medications being prescribed in the United States are safe and effective, its jurisdiction does not expand beyond the borders of the country. Second, while even overseas pharmaceutical companies strive to provide the safest medication to their patients, they often don’t take the environmental impact of their production into account.

This also isn’t just a local problem. While the areas around the offending factories will be most directly affected, bacteria and viruses have no respect for boarders and will continue to spread unchecked until we step in and make a change.

One potential solution is for U.S. drug makers to require that their overseas suppliers stop polluting, retracting their contracts if the factories are found to contaminate the environment with pharmaceutical waste or antibiotic-resistant disease strains. A number of pharmaceutical companies have already pledged to reevaluate their supply chains to reduce the impact pharmaceutical production has on the local ecosystem.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria and virus strains are one of the biggest threats to health and wellness today. Many strains that used to be treated with a basic antibiotic like amoxicillin have mutated to the point where they no longer respond to any traditional treatment options. It is up to the pharmaceutical companies in every country to ensure they are no longer contributing to the spread of these strains in the environment.

It’s not something that any one country is going to be able to fix alone, but if changes aren’t made, the failure of one country’s pharmaceutical production could affect the entire world.

Written by Kayla Matthews, Productivity Bytes

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