Role of the Environment in the Transmission of Antimicrobial Resistance to Humans: A Review

Environ Sci Technol. 2015 Oct 20;49(20):11993-2004. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.5b02566. Epub 2015 Sep 28.


To establish a possible role for the natural environment in the transmission of clinically relevant AMR bacteria to humans, a literature review was conducted to systematically collect and categorize evidence for human exposure to extended-spectrum β-lactamase-producing Enterobacteriaceae, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus spp. in the environment. In total, 239 datasets adhered to inclusion criteria. AMR bacteria were detected at exposure-relevant sites (35/38), including recreational areas, drinking water, ambient air, and shellfish, and in fresh produce (8/16). More datasets were available for environmental compartments (139/157), including wildlife, water, soil, and air/dust. Quantitative data from exposure-relevant sites (6/35) and environmental compartments (11/139) were scarce. AMR bacteria were detected in the contamination sources (66/66) wastewater and manure, and molecular data supporting their transmission from wastewater to the environment (1/66) were found. The abundance of AMR bacteria at exposure-relevant sites suggests risk for human exposure. Of publications pertaining to both environmental and human isolates, however, only one compared isolates from samples that had a clear spatial and temporal relationship, and no direct evidence was found for transmission to humans through the environment. To what extent the environment, compared to the clinical and veterinary domains, contributes to human exposure needs to be quantified. AMR bacteria in the environment, including sites relevant for human exposure, originate from contamination sources. Intervention strategies targeted at these sources could therefore limit emission of AMR bacteria to the environment.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Bacteria / drug effects
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification*
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial* / drug effects
  • Enterobacteriaceae / drug effects
  • Enterobacteriaceae / isolation & purification
  • Enterobacteriaceae / metabolism
  • Environment
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Food Microbiology
  • Humans
  • Manure
  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus / drug effects
  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus / isolation & purification
  • Recreation
  • Soil Microbiology
  • Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococci / drug effects
  • Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococci / isolation & purification
  • Water Microbiology
  • beta-Lactamases / metabolism


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Manure
  • beta-Lactamases