It is interesting to consider how a conversation moves from antimicrobial resistance to the near extinction of Vultures. Anyone who recently visited me at Making Pharmaceuticals may have been subjected to my newly learned tale of the near extinction of the Indian Vulture. In the 1980s, these birds, a significant part of the Indian ecosystem (but who knew then) appeared safe with numbers of more than 80 million birds.
The population decreased by 95% in the 1990s. How does this link to pharmaceuticals and networking I may hear you ask? It appears a major contributing factor has been the widespread use of anti- inflammatory drugs namely diclofenac, used in treatment of inflammatory disease in cattle.
It turns out that diclofenac is fatal to vultures. Vultures are exposed to mortal doses when they eat the carcass of an animal treated with diclofenac. A simulation model demonstrated that if only 1% of carcasses were contaminated by diclofenac, Indian vulture populations would fall by between 60% and 90% annually, and a study of carcasses showed that about 10% were contaminated in the 1980s.Vultures play an important role in public sanitation in India and their disappearance has resulted in a number of problems. The loss of the vultures have had multiple consequences. The carcasses formerly eaten by vultures, now rot in village fields leading to contaminated drinking water. The disappearance of vultures has allowed other species such as rat and wild dog populations to grow, but these scavengers are not as efficient. The vulture is a “dead-end” for pathogens, dogs and rats are carriers of the pathogens, so disease spreads.
The drug was banned in 2006 but its effects still resonate across the country and its wildlife.