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Antimicrobial resistance: A silent environmental threat

28 May 2024


An invisible threat, silently infiltrating our environment, Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) has been declared one of the top 10 global public health threats by the World Health Organisation.

Extending beyond healthcare, this insidious crisis not only threatens to undermine our ability to treat and prevent infections in humans, animals and plants, but also poses a severe threat to the delicate balance of our ecosystems worldwide.

AMR occurs when microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi and viruses develop the ability to resist the effects of antimicrobial agents, such as antibiotics, antifungals and antivirals. While natural selection plays a role, the primary driver behind the alarming rise and spread of AMR is the overuse and misuse of vital medications.

Antimicrobials are extensively used in healthcare, agriculture and animal husbandry and have revolutionised modern medicine and enabled the control of infectious diseases. However, their overuse and misuse have led to the emergence and spread of resistant microorganisms.

The latest national surveillance data for AMR in the UK (2022) shows that, despite a 15% decrease in prescriptions since 2014, antibiotic resistant infections continue to rise with the incidence of resistant infections increasing by 4% between 2021 and 2022 (see news story from the UK government).


A pervasive threat

Compounding the issue, antimicrobial residues from pharmaceutical manufacturing, hospitals, agricultural runoff and improper disposal contaminate environmental matrices, including soils and waterbodies.

This creates a breeding ground for resistant microorganisms and resistance genes to proliferate and disseminate rapidly through the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil that nourishes our crops.

The presence of antimicrobial-resistant microorganisms and resistance genes in the environment can have far-reaching consequences. Resistant microorganisms can potentially transfer their resistance mechanisms to other microorganisms, including those that cause infections in humans and animals, rendering antimicrobial treatments ineffective.

In addition, the ecological consequences of AMR have the potential to be extensive and far-reaching. Resistant microorganisms may outcompete susceptible populations, altering the composition of microbial communities and disrupting the vital environmental processes which they mediate (e.g. nutrient cycling, decomposition and primary production).


A One Health approach

Whilst the challenges posed by AMR are daunting, there are proactive steps we can take to alleviate its severity and safeguard our future. Addressing the complex challenge of AMR requires an interdisciplinary response spanning multiple sectors. The One Health approach to AMR recognises that human, animal and environmental health are interconnected and that in order to tackle AMR a coordinated, multisectoral effort involving various disciplines and stakeholders is required. 

Raising awareness and promoting education about AMR's far-reaching consequences are crucial first steps. By increasing stakeholder awareness and understanding of this urgent issue, we can foster a collective commitment to addressing it through collaborative action.

The key foci of the One Health approach are implementing integrated surveillance and monitoring strategies, ensuring responsible antimicrobial used and stewardship, improving infection prevention and control measures, enhancing waste management practices and fostering research on transmission dynamics and interventions across all relevant sectors. By adopting this comprehensive approach, we can mitigate the spread of AMR and protect the well-being of humans, animals and the environment for generations to come.



Ricardo plays host to a wealth of multidisciplinary expertise in land, water, air quality, chemical risk assessment and environmental policy, positioning us as frontrunners in addressing the most challenging global environmental issues we currently face, including AMR.

Our team of experts is dedicated to safeguarding human and environmental health, food security, and economic well-being for generations to come.

By developing innovative solutions, conducting trailblazing research and collaborating with stakeholders across a diversity of sectors, we are committed to combating the silent threat of AMR in our environment.

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Kate Schofield B&W

Kate Schofield