According to new research from the University of Leicester’s College of Medicine, common forms of air pollution directly increase the potential for bacterial respiratory infection. Also, very interestingly, they alter the effectiveness of antibiotic treatment.
The new research is apparently the first to determine that common types of bacteria that cause respiratory infections are directly affected by air pollution — and that the impacts lead to a greater potential for infection and altered effectiveness of antibiotic treatments.
It was already known that areas with high levels of air pollution are also home to higher rates of infectious diseases, but specific causes hadn’t been reliably identified.
Lead author of the new study, Dr Julie Morrissey, Associate Professor in Microbial Genetics in the University of Leicester’s Department of Genetics, commented:
“This work increases our understanding of how air pollution affects human health. It shows that the bacteria which cause respiratory infections are affected by air pollution, possibly increasing the risk of infection and the effectiveness of antibiotic treatment of these illnesses.
“Our research could initiate an entirely new understanding of how air pollution affects human health. It will lead to enhancement of research to understand how air pollution leads to severe respiratory problems and perturbs the environmental cycles essential for life.”
The press release provides more: “A major component of air pollution is black carbon, which is produced through the burning of fossil fuels such as diesel, biofuels, and biomass. The research shows that this pollutant changes the way in which bacteria grow and form communities, which could affect how they survive on the lining of our respiratory tracts and how well they are able to hide from, and combat, our immune systems.”
As a reminder here, air pollution is estimated to be directly responsible for at least 7 million deaths a year, as well as being responsible for large portions of a great many diseases and ailments. As we wrote in January (after first covering these stats as part of an examination of the economic benefits of electric cars):
“’Particulate matter is singlehandedly responsible for up to 30,000 premature deaths each year’ in the US. The ‘cost of outdoor air pollution’ in the US in terms of premature death was estimated to be $500 billion in 2010, with about half of that cost coming from road transport. That is the estimated cost only from premature deaths — it doesn’t include the costs of asthma, cancers that people survive, heart attacks that people survive, etc.”
Pollution is expensive, and causes a lot of suffering.
The new research is detailed in a paper published in the journal Environmental Microbiology.