“Superbugs” sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, but it could be a very real possibility in our future. But what is a superbug, and what do they have to do with climate change?
Superbugs arise when a germ is able to resist the medicines that kill them, and they’re extremely dangerous. In 2019, this antimicrobial resistance caused 5 million deaths around the world, and the numbers are only going to rise unless we fight back. The warming temperatures of our planet accelerate the evolution of these germs, allowing them to grow and spread their antimicrobial resistance genes faster than ever before. In addition, events such as severe flooding due to climate change cause more densely packed populations and serious uncleanliness, conditions that these germs thrive in.
“The same drivers that cause environmental degradation are worsening the antimicrobial resistance problem. The impacts of antimicrobial resistance could destroy our health and food systems,” says Inger Andersen, the executive director of the UN Environmental programme.
In addition, the development of superbugs impacts our medical industry severely, as many life saving medical procedures such as chemotherapy or organ transplants require patients to take antibiotics due to risk of infection. With the rise of superbugs, these medical treatments are much more risky.
“Antimicrobial resistance undermines modern medicine and puts millions of lives at risk,” says WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
So what can we do to stop superbugs from becoming even more of a problem? One thing we can do is limit our antimicrobial usage, as our current overuse of them in things like pesticides and cleaning products is actually accelerating the evolution of antimicrobial-resistant bacterias. By protecting the health of ourselves and others with small steps like these, we can make a difference.