Background: Many bacteria of clinical importance survive and may grow in different environments. Antibiotic pollution may exert on them a selective pressure leading to an increase in the prevalence of resistance.
Objectives: In this study we sought to determine whether environmental concentrations of antibiotics and concentrations representing action limits used in environmental risk assessment may exert a selective pressure on clinically relevant bacteria in the environment.
Methods: We used bacterial inhibition as an assessment end point to link antibiotic selective pressures to the prevalence of resistance in bacterial populations. Species sensitivity distributions were derived for three antibiotics by fitting log-logistic models to end points calculated from minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) distributions based on worldwide data collated by the European Committee on Antimicrobial Susceptibility Testing (EUCAST). To place bacteria represented in these distributions in a broader context, we performed a brief phylogenetic analysis. The potentially affected fraction of bacterial genera at measured environmental concentrations of antibiotics and environmental risk assessment action limits was used as a proxy for antibiotic selective pressure. Measured environmental concentrations and environmental risk assessment action limits were also directly compared to wild-type cut-off values.
Results: The potentially affected fraction of bacterial genera estimated based on antibiotic concentrations measured in water environments is ≤ 7%. We estimated that measured environmental concentrations in river sediments, swine feces lagoons, liquid manure, and farmed soil inhibit wild-type populations in up to 60%, 92%, 100%, and 30% of bacterial genera, respectively. At concentrations used as action limits in environmental risk assessment, erythromycin and ciprofloxacin were estimated to inhibit wild-type populations in up to 25% and 76% of bacterial genera.
Conclusions: Measured environmental concentrations of antibiotics, as well as concentrations representing environmental risk assessment action limits, are high enough to exert a selective pressure on clinically relevant bacteria that may lead to an increase in the prevalence of resistance.