Antibiotics are being painted onto the hulls of ships to them clear of barnacles in a practice that is helping to drive the appearance of drug resistant bacteria, ministers from the world’s richest nations have been warned.
The use of antibiotics by the shipping industry emerged at a high level meeting of science ministers from the G8, who have prioritised tackling the problem of antibiotic resistance.
Dame Sally Davis, the British Chief Medical Officer, told the ministers that the common antibiotic Tetracycline, which is used to treat common infections in patients, was being added to paint for use on the hulls of ships to prevent the build up of algae and barnacles, known as fouling.
However, bacteria in the water can develop resistance to the antibiotic and it can be passed onto other organisms such as Escherichia coli and Salmonella.
There were almost 43,000 patients who caught so called “superbugs” in NHS hospitals last year.
David Willetts, the British science minister who led the meeting this week, said the soaring levels of antibiotic resistant infections was now one of the greatest threats facing the world.
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