Antibiotic in Bangladesh rivers 300 times higher than safe level

Pablo Tucker
May 29, 2019

Metronidazole, used to treat skin and mouth infections, was found at concentrations 300 times greater than the "safe" level in a Bangladesh river. While trimethoprim was the most prevalent antibiotic, ciprofloxacin was most often detected in unsafe levels.

Sites where antibiotics exceeded "safe" levels by the greatest degree were in Bangladesh, Kenya, Ghana, Pakistan and Nigeria, while a site in Austria was ranked the highest of the European sites monitored. A researcher involved in the study called the results "eye-opening and worrying".

According to the World Health Organization, more than 500,000 people suffer from varying degrees of antibiotics resistance, which would make them resistant against treatment for E. coli bacterial infections, staph infections, pneumonia, and salmonella.

The study revealed that high-risk sites were typically adjacent to wastewater treatment systems, waste or sewage dumps and in some areas of political turmoil, including the Israeli and Palestinian border.

The study was done by researchers from the Banaras Hindu University who found evidence of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the water and sediment samples collected from five river banks - Assi, Bhadaini, Harishchandra, Dr Rajendra Prasad and Rajghat in Varanasi.


The world's rivers are widely contaminated with antibiotics, according to a new global study, the first of its kind.

However, sites in Europe, North America and South America also had high levels of contamination showing that antibiotic contamination was a "global problem".

The UN estimates that the rise in antibiotic resistance could kill 10 million people by 2050.

Samples taken from the Danube in Austria contained seven antibiotics including clarithromycin, used to treat respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis, at almost four times the level considered safe.

Even if relatively low levels of the drugs are found in rivers, it could still increase the likelihood of the development and spread of antibiotic resistance, researchers said.


A total of 711 sites were tested and antibiotics were found at 65 per cent of them.

University of York researchers led the research and sent out 92 sampling kits to partners across the world who were asked to take samples from locations along their local river system.

"We've found that rivers - particularly in Africa and Asia - have antibiotics that will probably select for resistance and could be contributing to the antimicrobial crisis". "We know very little about the scale of the problem globally".

"Our study helps fill this key knowledge gap with data being generated for countries that had never been monitored before".

Solving the problem of antibiotic pollution in the natural environment is going to be a massive challenge, Boxall warns.


The study is scheduled to be presented at the two-day annual meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) in Helsinki, Finland, starting on May 27.

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