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More research is needed into UK airborne antimicrobial resistance

Environment Agency report highlights need for more information about airborne antimicrobial resistance in the UK

A University of Exeter researcher has led a report published by the Environment Agency on the current state of knowledge about airborne antimicrobial resistance. The report identifies that very little is known about the levels of antimicrobial resistance in outdoor air environments in the UK - and its implications for our health.

The literature review was carried out by Dr. Matt Lloyd Jones during his time at the Environment Agency in 2018, prior to taking up positions at the University of Exeter. Working in the Environment Agency’s Research team to review the scientific literature, Matt concluded that across scientific studies, the profile of antimicrobial resistance in outdoor air samples generally seems to reflect the terrestrial environments with which they are associated (e.g. agriculture-associated air seems to be polluted mainly by agriculture-associated antibiotics). However, none of these studies came from the UK and there is a lack of epidemiological studies to contextualise the evidence, signalling a need for more research.

Matt said: “I found evidence from studies outside the UK that the AMR profile of air reflects the land use types that it is associated with through aerosolisation of terrestrial material. At present, it’s difficult to use this information directly to understand what this means for the health risk to UK citizens during exposure to different types of air. In my opinion, what is really needed is more information about the number of antimicrobial-resistant microorganisms and antimicrobial resistance genes in UK air, together with epidemiological and experimental data that will allow us to assess whether the air is a main route for AMR transmission through the environment and to our bodies.”

The report also makes some estimations of the overall prevalence of resistance found in different environments, points to a lack of studies of antimicrobial resistance in airborne fungi, and makes recommendations for future research. The project’s findings highlights that all environmental sources and pathways should be considered in situations where they may contribute to exposure to antimicrobial resistant microorganisms.

Matt is currently working with other researchers at Exeter on the environmental dimensions of AMR. His current project involves performing evidence synthesis to review the pathways of antimicrobial resistance associated with beef production systems in Argentina, as part of an international BBSRC project funded through the UK Department of Health and Social Care and UK Aid.

The full report is available here and to find out more about our research, visit the AMR webpage and search #ExeterAMR on Twitter.

Date: 19 February 2020