May 21 (UPI) -- New research suggests rising temperatures are encouraging antibiotic resistance in cities across the United States.
Until now, health researchers assumed antibiotic resistance was primarily the result of overprescription and overuse. But a new study suggests climate change is also to blame.
"The effects of climate are increasingly being recognized in a variety of infectious diseases, but so far as we know this is the first time it has been implicated in the distribution of antibiotic resistance over geographies," Derek MacFadden, an infectious disease specialist and research fellow at Boston Children's Hospital, said in a news release. "We also found a signal that the associations between antibiotic resistance and temperature could be increasing over time."
MacFadden and his colleagues analyzed instances of antibiotic resistance to three common bacterial strains, E. coli, K. pneumoniae and S. aureus, as reported by hospitals across the country.
When researchers compared the data with weather patterns, their analysis -- detailed in the journal Nature Climate Change -- revealed a correlation between local temperature increases, population densities and antibiotic resistance. Scientists acknowledged that additional research will be necessary to confirm a cause-and-effect relationship.
Previous studies have predicted an increase in antibiotic resistance in the coming decades. The latest findings suggests those predictions could prove overly conservative.
"Population growth and increases in temperature and antibiotic resistance are three phenomena that we know are currently happening on our planet," said Mauricio Santillana, assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. "But until now, hypotheses about how these phenomena relate to each other have been sparse."
Authors of the new study believe global warming is accelerating the transmission of antibiotic-resistant organisms from one host to another, providing more opportunities for organisms to select for resistance as they evolve and reproduce.
"The bottom line is that our findings highlight a dire need to invest more research efforts into improving our understanding of the interconnectedness of infectious disease, medicine and our changing environment," said John Brownstein, a professor of pediatrics at HMS.