What are Microplastics?
- Microplastics are small pieces of plastic, less than 5 mm (0.2 inch) in length, that occur in the environment as a consequence of plastic pollution. Microplastics are present in a variety of products, from cosmetics to synthetic clothing to plastic bags and bottles.
Why in News?
- As per a new study, ultra-fine plastic particles can become ‘hubs’ for antibiotic-resistant bacteria and pathogens to grow once they wash down household drains and enter wastewater treatment plants.
What is antibiotic resistance?
- Antibiotic resistance happens when germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. That means the germs are not killed and continue to grow. Infections caused by antibiotic-resistant germs are difficult, and sometimes impossible, to treat.
What the researchers found?
- Certain strains of bacteria have elevated antibiotic resistance by up to 30 times when living on microplastic biofilms that form inside sludge units at municipal wastewater treatment plants.
- These wastewater treatment plants can be hotspots where various chemicals, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and pathogens converge and what our study shows is that microplastics can serve as their carriers, posing imminent risks to aquatic biota and human health if they bypass the water treatment process
- According to the researchers, when microplastics enter the wastewater treatment plant and mix in with sludge, bacteria can accidentally attach to the surface and secrete glue-like substances.
- As other bacteria attach to the surface and grow, they can even swap DNA with each other. This is how the antibiotic resistance genes are being spread among the community.
Why the worry?
- According to a UN report, at least 7,00,000 people die each year as a result of drug-resistant diseases. This figure could rise to 10 million by 2050.
- A recent study by ICMR in India found that two out of every three healthy Indians are resistant to two major types of antibiotics.
- The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) published a study that found antibiotic resistant organisms in the digestive tracts of two out of every three healthy people tested, indicating a rapid spread of antibiotic resistance in the Indian population.
How are we going to fight it?
- WHO launched the global antimicrobial surveillance system (GLASS) in 2015, with the goal of collaborating with WHO collaborating centres and existing antimicrobial resistance surveillance networks.
- In 2011, a national policy for AMR containment was implemented by India.
- There is an urgent need to establish an antimicrobial programme in India in order to rationalise the use of antimicrobials and to encourage the development of newer and more effective antimicrobials.
- An AMR surveillance system in the country is also the need of the hour.