India’s drug factories provide breeding ground for deadly viruses

Polluted water near drug factories in India, contaminated with antibiotics and fungicide, could lead to bacteria developing resistance at an alarming rate. [Shutterstock]

Many antibiotics sold in Germany are produced in India under alarming conditions. These are contributing to the development of dangerous pathogens that are resistant to many medicines. EURACTIV Germany reports.

There are growing concerns around the world about the risk of epidemics due to the increasing number of dangerous resistant pathogens, against which medicines are becoming less effective.

Researchers in Leipzig have been tracking where these viruses come from and under what conditions they arise. The results are alarming.

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Infectious disease specialist Christoph Lübbert reported back in 2015 that dangerous pathogens have been “imported” by tourists and travellers. Lübbert’s entry in the International Journal of Medical Microbiology revealed that many people returning from abroad, particularly from India, import potentially dangerous bacteria.

“Asia proved the be the continent with the highest risk of contact with multi-resistant pathogens,” Lübbert warned. “More than 70% of all travellers coming back from India were carriers, as were around 50% from Southeast Asia,” he added.

Although generally harmless to healthy individuals, these bacteria can be dangerous to already sick or immunodeficient people. The risk is increased because the carriers have not picked up the pathogens in hospitals or clinics. “This clearly shows that bacteria in Asian countries appear to occur directly in the environment or in the food chain,” Lübbert explained.

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As a result, Lübbert was pushed towards looking for the breeding ground of the germs. The researcher travelled to India with a team from NDR, WDR and the Süddeutscher Zeitung.

His investigations revealed that pharmaceutical companies in India are contributing to the development of potentially deadly germs.

A failure to properly purify sewage by large factories operated by drug manufacturers could be making the problem much worse, according to the study. Water samples taken near pharmaceutical plants in November 2016 showed a high concentration of antibiotics and fungicide.

Lübbert’s colleague from Leipzig, Arne Rodloff, explained that the more contact bacteria and pathogens have with medicines designed to fight them, the more quickly they are able to develop resistance.

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He also revealed that of samples taken from 28 sites, more than 95% contained multi-resistant pathogens. Similarly alarming results were found by a team from Nuremberg’s pharamaceutical research centre.

And the quantities are not insignificant. A sample from a sewage ditch near an industrial site in Hyderabad in southern India contained 237 milligrams per litre of the fungicide Fluconazol. “This is a concentration that is 20 times higher than the maximum amount that can be given to sick patients,” Lübbert warned.

The problem is that bacteria in water can develop resistance against antibiotics quite quickly and these multi-resistant strains are difficult to tackle. Rodloff explained that only a few antibiotics are effective against them. “If they develop resistance against them, we’ve got nothing left,” he warned.

The consequences are severe and far-reaching. According to NDR, “nearly all large pharmaceutical companies in Germaný” source antibiotics and fungicides from Hyderabad.

Two of those companies insisted that the checks and balances put in place safeguard their standards. But researchers doubt if this is enough.

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