A short paper on the COVID-19 outbreak and its potential impacts on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has just been published by Dr Aimee Murray, Research Fellow at the University of Exeter Medical School.
As antibiotic use grows, bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to treatment. AMR jeopardises modern healthcare which relies on access to antibiotics to prevent and treat infections associated with routine medical procedures.
Dr Murray said: “The COVID-19 epidemic is a massive threat to global health and the global economy. I wanted to highlight that AMR, also a massive threat to society, could be impacted by COVID-19 in lots of different ways.”
It has been estimated that in 30 years, AMR infections will cause one death every three seconds, as well as a loss of over $1 trillion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) worldwide. Dr Murray works on how human use of antibiotics and antimicrobials (like pharmaceuticals or disinfectants) can lead to increased AMR in the environment, with colleagues in the European Centre for Environment and Human Health.
Dr Murray said: “The first thing that crossed my mind was there will be a lot more antibiotics and antimicrobials entering the wastewater treatment plant system, and I wondered if that might increase levels of AMR in the environment.”
Previous work by Dr Murray has shown that low concentrations of antibiotics, similar to those found in the environment, can increase AMR levels. Antibiotic use is likely increasing in hospitals as part of COVID-19 treatment. Though antibiotics are not effective against the virus that causes COVID-19, they are used to treat COVID-19 patients who contract bacterial infections whilst ill. Similarly, use of disinfectants and household cleaners will have soared in the hospital and in the community. Many of these contain antimicrobials that could also lead to the development of AMR. Therefore, the current COVID-19 epidemic could be worsening the AMR problem further down the line.
However, there may be a silver lining. In addition to combatting COVID-19, better hygiene practices globally will also reduce the spread of AMR bacteria, both in hospitals and in the community. Reduced travel will also limit the spread of AMR between countries.
One final area where Dr Murray is optimistic is public awareness of AMR. She hopes that comparisons between COVID-19 and AMR can be used to illustrate how quickly outbreaks can occur, how difficult they are to control, and that sometimes, there is no ‘cure’.
Dr Murray said: “To be able to answer many of these questions, we need to act quickly and do the research now. I hope that sharing these ideas early on will complement current research, stimulate new research and in time, broaden the discussion around COVID-19 to include AMR.”
The paper, entitled, “The Novel Coronavirus COVID-19 Outbreak: Global Implications for Antimicrobial Resistance” is published in Frontiers in Microbiology and is available open access here.
The past few months have marked an extraordinary start to a new decade and the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a crisis across Europe and the world of a magnitude we have probably not seen since the Second World War. European countries and communities have been amongst the worst affected, with high death tolls and major impacts on people’s lives and livelihoods. We have been reminded once more that the challenges facing humanity do not respect borders and that we must work together as nations to solve problems and create a better world.
This week marks the 75th anniversary of VE Day on 8 May, a time of reflection and remembrance, and the following day is Europe Day, when many will celebrate our hard won peace and unity. We know that in the UK – and indeed for many in the European Union – the Brexit process has at times been tortuous and divisive, but I believe we must now look to the future and make sure we continue to strengthen our European relationships and work harder than ever to find common ground on the challenges we all face.
Universities must be at the forefront of this collaboration and I believe the academic community are well placed to bring our countries and communities together through this time of crisis and renewal. We already collaborate on world-class education and research that enrich and improve all our lives, from culture and the arts, to science and business. We are well connected to our communities and governments and in the months and years ahead we must use our influence, knowledge and experience to help shape a healthier and happier world that we can sustain for future generations.
At the University of Exeter we are proud of our European connections and collaborations. We currently have around 1400 European students enrolled and nearly 800 European staff at Exeter, and over recent years we have consistently ranked in the top-10 in the UK for outbound student mobility, which includes ERASMUS+ students who go to Europe as part of their higher education.
We have also forged numerous fantastic partnerships with universities across Europe – from Lund University in Sweden, to TU Munich in Germany. In December 2019, we became the first UK University to join the Venice International University (VIU) Consortium – an association of 20 of the world’s top universities. In October, we signed a partnership agreement jointly to fund research and education collaborative projects for another 5 years with the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and together we have already funded 8 research and education partnerships with them.
In December 2018, we established the Europe Network Fund to facilitate research and education collaboration across Europe. There have been 3 calls for funding to date, and we have funded 34 collaborative projects across all Colleges. These academic partnerships will be the building blocks for helping us determine our future strategic partnership and engagement in Europe for the next 3 years, and will be reviewed in detail at our Europe Regional Board meeting on May 20th.
We are also delighted by the recent growth in research funding and collaborations with European partners. Exeter is currently 14th in the UK for EU Horizon funding and in 2020 obtained €90,203,573 for 152 projects – 88 with EU partners.
From SSIS, for example, Jason Reifler’s DEBUNKER project is an ERC Consolidator Grant that looks at public misperceptions in the areas of politics, health and science and examines how to combat these and how to design policies and communications to better effect. Jason is planning to refocus some of this work to examine misperceptions of Covid-19. You can find a summary of the project here: https://cordis.europa.eu/project/id/682758. From Humanities, Muireann Maguire’s RUSTRANS project is an ERC Starting Grant that examines the use of translation as a means of self-promotion and cultural consolidation for emergent nation-states, potentially politicised and conditioned by ideological preferences or state influences, and focuses on Russian translations into English. You can find a summary of the project here http://cordis.europa.eu/project/id/802437.
Another of our strengths at Exeter is addressing the environment and climate emergency – perhaps the biggest challenge of our generation beyond Covid-19 – and it is especially noteworthy that under Horizon Society Challenge 5, the “Climate action, environment, resource efficiency and raw materials,” Exeter is the top-performing institution in the UK by value of grant and 7th in the EU as a whole by value and volume of grants.
I mention these facts and figures only because they matter to our core mission at Exeter which is, through our people, partnerships, education and research, to innovate by challenging traditional thinking and defying conventional boundaries.
As Assistant Deputy Vice Chancellor (Europe), I want to help support and promote our European connections and research. I have found joy through my own work in Europe, across both research projects and teaching initiatives, as Professor of Hispanic Studies and Film Studies, and I want to use my knowledge, skills and this new role to ensure we continue to strengthen our bonds across Europe. In research, this means leading or participating in key research collaborations, and, in teaching, continuing our success in student exchanges and building on these as further research and digital possibilities open up. Ideally, our partnerships in Europe will be as multi-layered as possible, combining innovative research collaboration with opening up exciting learning possibilities for our students, as well as working with wider communities with the support of our alumni and philanthropic networks.
One way I want to make progress is to engage more with our community and bring to the fore more of our outstanding work in Europe through our communications, which include this new Exeter and Europe Blog. I also want to hear from colleagues and students about how we can strengthen our European education, research and partnerships.
I look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead.
Visit our European news section for the latest updates on research and education stories and I have listed a few to get you started: