Recently Vinny Burgoo encouraged me to write an article on the risk posed to mankind by the rise in antibiotic-resistant infections. The presupposition would be that this is yet another of those risks that is actually rather serious but far less notorious than the old chestnut of climate change. It’s not a subject with which I have any familiarity, and so to meet the challenge I was going to have to do quite a bit of research. Unfortunately, my studies were to be cut short because, rather than comparing the two risks, the very first paper I consulted firmly attributed the first risk to the second: Growing antibiotic resistance will, in fact, be the inevitable consequence of climate change. So you can just add it to the list of evils that are set to befall mankind as a direct result of its love affair with fossil fuels.
The author is an MD, and the reasons he proposes for a climate-induced growth of antibiotic resistance are many and varied. They range from the treatment of lung damage caused from forest fires, to an increase in sewage-related disease resulting from flooding. Drought also gets a mention because this would cause people to huddle ever more closely around the dwindling water supply, thereby encouraging increased transmission of disease. You might think the last-mentioned example to be rather far-fetched, but this is as nothing compared with the author’s take on the effect that warming can be expected to have on his fellow doctors:
“Another underexplored consequence of higher temperatures is the effect it will have on human behavior, including prescribers, as higher temperatures increase irritability and reduce critical thinking. Telemedicine, increasingly used for all types of medical encounters because of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been associated with increased unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions (visits unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic), which may be a result of time pressure as visits are shorter when antibiotics are prescribed and patients are more satisfied. As increased use of unnecessary antibiotics and local prescribing practices are known risk factors for antibiotic resistance, the association between temperature and behavior could have significant ramifications.”
Just to be clear, an MD is saying here that climate change is going to make doctors so hot and bothered that they are likely to prescribe antibiotics just to get you out of their surgery, or off the phone. This, it is predicted, will have ‘significant ramifications’ for the growth of antibiotic resistance. We are going to see a lot more death and destruction just because doctors are going to get more irritable! I think we can all look forward to the BBC’s coverage:
They said that Dr Shipman was a 1 in 100 years event. Worryingly, however, attribution studies have shown that this sort of extreme behaviour was not possible without climate change and such events are going to get much more frequent.
Intrigued by the above, and somewhat concerned for my future medical care, I decided to investigate the paper’s author, a certain Jason P. Burnham MD, only to discover that his pet likes include ‘sci-fi and speculative fiction’.
I’ll say no more.