How effective are strategies to control the dissemination of antibiotic resistance in the environment? A systematic review


Antibiotic resistance is a major concern for public and environmental health. The role played by the environment in disseminating resistance is increasingly considered, as well as its capacity for mitigation. We reviewed the literature on strategies to control dissemination of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (ARB), antibiotic resistance genes (ARG) and mobile genetic elements (MGE) in the environment.


This systematic review focused on three main strategies: (i) restriction of antibiotic use (S1), (ii) treatments of liquid/solid matrices (S2) and (iii) management of natural environment (S3). Articles were collected from seven scientific databases until July 2017 and from Web of Science until June 2018. Only studies reporting measurements of ARB, ARG or MGE in environmental samples were included. An evidence map was drawn from metadata extracted from all studies eligible for S1, S2 and S3. Subsets of studies were assessed for internal and external validity to perform narrative and quantitative syntheses. A meta-analysis was carried out to assess the effects of organic waste treatments (random-effect models).

Review findings

Nine hundred and thirty-one articles representing 1316 individual studies (n) were eligible for S1 (n = 59), S2 (n = 781) and S3 (n = 476) strategies, respectively. Effects of interventions to control the dissemination of antibiotic resistance in the environment were primarily studied in strategy S2. A partial efficiency of wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) to reduce antibiotic resistance in treated effluent was reported in 118 high validity studies. In spite of the heterogeneity in published results, the meta-analysis showed that composting and drying were efficient treatments to reduce the relative abundance of ARG and MGE in organic waste, by 84% [65%; 93%] and 98% [80%; 100%], respectively. The effect of anaerobic digestion was not statistically significant (51% reduction [− 2%; 77%]) when organic waste treatments were compared together in the same model. Studies in strategies S1 and S3 mainly assessed the effects of exposure to sources of contamination. For instance, 28 medium/high validity studies showed an increase of antibiotic resistance in aquatic environments at the WWTP discharge point. Some of these studies also showed a decrease of resistance as the distance from the WWTP increases, related to a natural resilience capacity of aquatic environments. Concerning wildlife, nine medium/high validity studies showed that animals exposed to anthropogenic activities carried more ARB.

Conclusions and implications

Knowledge gaps were identified for the relationship between restriction of antibiotic use and variation of antibiotic resistance in the environment, as well as on possible interventions in situ in natural environment. Organic waste treatments with thermophilic phase (> 50 °C) should be implemented before the use/release of organic waste in the environment. More investigation should be conducted with the datasets available in this review to determine the treatment efficiency on ARG carried by specific bacterial communities.


Keyw1, Keyw2


Antibiotic treatments are indispensable for human and animal health. However, the heavy usage of antibiotics has led to the emergence of resistance. Antibiotic residues, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and genes are introduced into the terrestrial and aquatic environments via application of human and animal wastes. The emergence and the spread of antibiotic resistance in environmental reservoirs (i.e., soil, water, wildlife) threatens the efficacy of all antibiotics. Therefore, there is an urgent need to determine what effective solutions exist to minimize the dissemination of antibiotic resistance in the environment. The aim of this article is to describe the protocol of a systematic review of the literature considering these solutions.


The primary questions addressed by the systematic review protocol are: how antibiotic resistance in the environment is impacted by changes in practice concerning (i) the use of antibiotics, (ii) the management of wastes or (iii) the management of the natural compartment. Bibliographic searches will be made in eleven publication databases as well as in specialist databases. Grey literature will also be searched. Articles will be screened regarding the inclusion and exclusion criteria at title, abstract and full-text levels. Studies where a causal relationship between the intervention and the outcome is made will be retained. After critical appraisal, data from the selected articles will be extracted and saved in a database validated by the expert panel. Study quality will be assessed by critical appraisal. Data will be compiled into a qualitative synthesis. If data availability and quality allow it, a quantitative synthesis will be carried out.