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Research finds superbugs increase in tandem with levels of small particulate matter in the air

Air pollution may be a vector for superbugs, according to a new study that suggests a link between the two for the first time and raises the possibility that curbing smog could reduce antibiotic resistance globally.

A peer-reviewed study published in The Lancet Planetary Health on Monday found that antibiotic resistance increases in tandem with levels of small particulate matter, or PM2.5, which originates from engine combustion and can penetrate the lungs and bloodstream.

“The association has strengthened over time, with changes in PM2.5 levels leading to larger increases in antibiotic resistance in more recent years,” the researchers said. Especially high levels of both small particulate matter and antibiotic resistance were found in north Africa, the Middle East and south Asia.

The correlations were “consistent across the world in most antibiotic-resistant bacteria”, said the researchers. The findings follow earlier discoveries of DNA from antibiotic-resistant organisms on particles polluting the air. Antimicrobial resistance is the emergence of bacteria impervious to existing antibiotics, which the World Health Organization has said is one of the top 10 global public health threats.

Written by: Donato Paolo Mancini, Financial Times