Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Font Size

Antibiotics in Environment Fuel Drug Resistance?

Antibiotics in Water and Soil May Contribute to Rising Rates of Antibiotic Resistance
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 8, 2012 -- Antibiotics found in river sediment, farmed soil, and other sources are polluting the environment and contributing to the rising rates of antibiotic resistance, a new report suggests.

Antibiotic resistance occurs when a bacteria grows immune to the effect of an antibiotic or class of antibiotics. It has been called one of the world's greatest health threats by the CDC, the FDA, and the World Health Organization.

New research in Environmental Health Perspectives analyzed how antibiotics in the environment affect illness-causing bacteria including E. coli. The researchers found that antibiotic pollution in the environment has led to the proliferation of resistant bacteria.

"This ... reinforces previous studies which highlight that antibiotic contaminants in the environment may be leading to the development of antibiotic resistance," says researcher Alfredo Tello in a news release. He is a PhD student from the University of Stirling's Institute of Aquaculture in Scotland. "Antibiotics are being overused and we're seeing the emergence of resistance to infections that we used to be able to treat."

Their overuse has caused what's called "selective pressure." When exposed to antibiotics, bacteria can either die or survive. Selective pressure occurs when these bacteria survivors replicate and their offspring quickly become the dominant type of bacteria. As a result, an army of hard-to-treat germs can arise and spread to humans.

"This adds more science to the fact that antibiotic resistance doesn't just happen at the animal level," says Gail Hansen, DVM, MPH. She is a senior officer with the Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, D.C. "It gets get into lagoons or the environment, in general, and has an additive effect on antibiotic resistance."

She adds that "even lower levels of antibiotics can get into the environment and be high enough to cause resistance."

Sometimes, antibiotics are given to food animals to speed growth and compensate for less-than-hygienic conditions. The FDA recently gave the food industry three years to voluntarily stop using antibiotics to make food animals grow faster.

The bottom line? "Antibiotics are having an effect even after they are outside of the animal," Hansen says. "It doesn't stop."

WebMD Video: Now Playing

Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing