09/29/2011 05:12 pm ET Updated Nov 29, 2011

Could Roads Lead To Antibacterial Resistance?

By Karen Hopkin
(Click here for the original article and podcast)

They say all roads lead to Rome. Unfortunately that ain’t all that roads lead to. A new study shows that roads can promote the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The finding appears in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. [Joseph Eisenberg et al, In-roads to the spread of antibiotic resistance: regional patterns of microbial transmission in northern coastal Ecuador]

If you’ve ever taken antibiotics to get rid of an infection, you know it’s important to complete the course of treatment—to limit the possibility that a resistant strain will arise. But that’s just you, personally. How can we contain the spread of drug-resistant superbugs throughout the population? One way is to restrict bacterial traffic.

Scientists studied the emergence of antibiotic resistance in an isolated area of northern Ecuador. And they found that five years after a new road was constructed, the villages closest to that road saw a rise in resistance to ampicillin and sulphamethoxazole—nearly double that found in more remote regions. Seems the motorway makes it easier for resistant microbes to migrate from person to person, and to immigrate in from out-of-town.

So to stay safe on the highway, remember: wear your seatbelt. And wash your hands.