U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week: Environmental Health Spotlight

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U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week

November 22, 2023 

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Stewardship quiz? You betcha!

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Which of the following is false about disposing of medications in collection boxes?

A. It can prevent accidental poisoning

B. It prevents contamination of the environment, including waterways

C. It's ok to flush medications down a toilet if a collection box isn't available

D. It prevents antibiotic resistance


The answer is at the bottom of this newsletter.

Antibiotic Awareness Week

Improve Antibiotic Use, Improve Health Equity 

Every year, CDC and partners like MDH recognize U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week (USAAW) to raise awareness and share information on the importance of improving antibiotic and antifungal use. Any time antibiotics or antifungals are used—in people, animals, or plants—they can cause side effects and contribute to antimicrobial resistance. The USAAW observance is aligned with World Antimicrobial Resistance Awareness Week (WAAW) during the same week.

This year, CDC is focusing on the connection between appropriate antibiotic and antifungal prescribing and use and health equity. Health equity means everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health. Health inequities resulting from less-than-optimal antibiotic or antifungal prescribing practices may impact health outcomes, and result in an increase in antimicrobial resistance or adverse events in some populations.

Join us Nov. 18-24 as we recognize the importance of improving antibiotic and antifungal prescribing and use, improving health equity, and slowing the spread of antimicrobial resistance. Learn how you can take action this week and the rest of the year.

Visit the MDH U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week webpage to find resources, register for webinars, subscribe for updates, and more.

Improve Antibiotic Use, Improve Health Equity
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Antibiotics in Minnesota: Environmental Health Spotlight

Medication Disposal Site

Proper Medication Disposal: Don’t Flush Medicines Down the Drain!

Disposing of old or unwanted medications in a medication drop box is an important way to prevent environmental contamination. If flushed down the toilet or drain, these pharmaceuticals can contaminate our lakes and streams, which can hurt fish and other wildlife, as well as end up in our drinking water. There are over 300 free medication collection boxes around Minnesota that are located at law enforcement facilities and pharmacies. For locations and more information, visit Minnesota Pollution Control Agency: Don't flush medicines down the drain.

Presence of Antimicrobial Contamination in Minnesota Soil

Antibiotics do not just disappear when they enter the environment – soils and water sediment hold onto antibiotics, where they can promote bacterial resistance. Several Minnesota One Health Antibiotic Stewardship Collaborative (MOHASC) members have collaborated on research on antibiotics in the environment funded by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). One of the projects focused on the vulnerability of Minnesota soil to contamination with antimicrobial compounds. The figure below shows over the course of the year where an antibiotic has the potential to stay and contaminate the soil. Antimicrobial contamination potential within Minnesota soils was estimated to be highest in January and February, when the weather is coldest. Moving forward, the findings can be used to inform predictive assessments on a smaller spatial scale, particularly in areas where more accurate data is available. See the links below for recent publications that have resulted from this impactful research.

MN spatiotemporal vulnerability of soils to antimicrobial contamination

Image source: Bueno I, Rodriguez A, Beaudoin A, Arnold WA, Wammer KH, de la Torre A, Singer RS. Identifying the spatiotemporal vulnerability of soils to antimicrobial contamination from human and animal waste: a case study in the Upper Midwest. Science of The Total Environment. 2022 Apr 6; 832:155050

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Stories of Antibiotic Use and Resistance

Kris Wammer, PhD

Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry;
University of St. Thomas

How does your work involve antibiotic use?

My environmental chemistry research group at the University of St. Thomas studies the fate of biologically active contaminants, including antibiotics, in the environment. When antibiotics are used in humans or animals they can be discharged to surface waters and other environmental compartments. We primarily study processes that influence how long antibiotics persist in the environment, such as degradation by sunlight.

Kris Wammer, PhD

How has antibiotic resistance or antibiotic use affected your work?

There are no regulations currently in place that target antibiotics or antibiotic resistance genes as environmental pollutants. There are still a lot of unanswered questions about how significant environmental reservoirs may be in the proliferation of antibiotic resistance, and which pathways are most important for entry of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance genes into the environment. We are therefore motivated to perform studies that will help us answer these questions and determine what, if any, mitigation strategies should be prioritized.

Visit our Stories of Antibiotic Use and Resistance webpage for more on this and other stories. 

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Quiz Answer!

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Answer: C

Remember, wastewater treatment systems do not always filter medications before they reach the environment. Medications should be properly disposed of - never flushed down the toilet.

Unwanted prescriptions or over-the-counter medications should be disposed of in any of the more than 300 collection boxes located at pharmacies and law enforcement facilities across the state.

For more information, visit Minnesota Pollution Control Agency: Don't flush medicines down the drain.

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