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Antibiotic Resistance Spreads to Marine Life

Antibiotic resistance has become a major threat to public health worldwide, and the primary cause for this man-made epidemic is the widespread misuse of antibiotics — drugs used to combat bacterial infections in humans and animals. Over the decades, antibiotics have been widely overprescribed for infections that don't respond well, or at all, to these drugs.

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Viral infections, for example, can’t be treated with antibiotics since they only kill bacteria, yet many of you have likely taken a course of antibiotics for an ear infection, or a bout of cold or flu. Antibiotics have also been routinely used for growth promotion purposes in livestock, and this practice continues in the U.S. to this day, despite the well-known risks.

Thanks to these practices, humans aren’t the only ones who have been affected by antibiotic resistance. Research shows that dolphins are carriers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that enter waterways due to environmental degradation. A recent study showed just how serious the problem is becoming, when data over a 13-year time period, from 2003 to 2015, were examined. Of 733 samples of 171 bottlenose dolphin from the Indian River Lagoon, 88.2% showed resistance to at least one type of bacteria. The highest resistance recorded was of an antibiotic called erythromycin, commonly used to treat sexually transmitted infections, pneumonia, acne and dental abscesses. Of the samples, 91.6% showed resistance to this antibiotic.

While researchers have been aware of the high prevalence of antibiotic resistance in wild dolphins for quite some time, the problem has increased significantly over the past decade. Studies that have analyzed isolated pathogens from the dolphins showed the majority were human pathogens.

In the U.S. alone, antibiotic-resistant pathogens are conservatively estimated to cause at least 2 million infections annually, leading to 23,000 deaths each year. To avoid promoting antibiotic resistance:

Use antibiotics only when absolutely necessary

Avoid antibacterial household products such as antibacterial soaps, wipes and hand sanitizers

Properly wash your hands with warm water and plain soap to prevent the spread of bacteria

Take common-sense precautions in the kitchen such as sanitizing and using separate cutting boards

Purchase organic, antibiotic-free meats and other foods

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