Humans passing drug resistance to animals in protected Africa
by Staff Writers
Blacksburg VA (SPX) Apr 26, 2013
This shows Virginia Tech researcher Kathleen Alexander (left) and Risa Pesapane of Portsmouth, Va., a former master’s student studying wildlife science in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, working at the study site in Botswana. Researchers have discovered that humans are passing antibiotic resistance to wildlife, especially in protected areas where numbers of humans are limited. In the case of banded mongoose, multidrug resistance among study social groups was higher in the protected area than in troops living in village areas. The study also reveals that humans and mongoose appear to be readily exchanging fecal microorganisms, increasing the potential for disease transmission. Credit: Virginia Tech.
A team of Virginia Tech researchers has discovered that humans are passing antibiotic resistance to wildlife, especially in protected areas where numbers of humans are limited.
In the case of banded mongoose in a Botswana study, multidrug resistance among study social groups, or troops, was higher in the protected area than in troops living in village areas.
The study also reveals that humans and mongoose appear to be readily exchanging fecal microorganisms, increasing the potential for disease transmission.
“The research identifies the coupled nature of humans, animals, and the natural environment across landscapes, even those designated as protected,” said Kathleen Alexander, an associate professor of wildlife in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.
“With few new antibiotics on the horizon, wide-scale antibiotic resistance in wildlife across the environment presents a critical threat to human and animal health. As humans and animals exchange microorganisms, the threat of emerging disease also increases.”
The National Science Foundation-funded research project investigating how pathogens might move between humans and animals was published April 24, 2013 by EcoHealth.
“Tracking Pathogen Transmission at the Human-Wildlife Interface: Banded Mongoose and Escherichia coli” is co-authored by Risa Pesapane of Portsmouth, Va., then a wildlife sciences master’s student at Virginia Tech; microbiologist Monica Ponder, an assistant professor of food science and technology in Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; and Alexander, who is the corresponding author.
Alexander and Ponder are both affiliated with Virginia Tech’s Fralin Life Science Institute.
Alexander, a veterinarian and researcher with the nonprofit Center for African Resources: Animals, Communities, and Land Use (CARACAL), has been conducting a long-term ecological study of banded mongoose in the region.
The researchers collected fecal samples from three troops of banded mongoose living in Botswana’s Chobe National Park and three troops living in villages outside the park.
“Banded mongoose forage in garbage resources and search for insects in fecal waste, including human sources found in the environment,” said Alexander. “Mongoose contact with other wildlife and humans, and broad occurrence across the landscape, makes this species an ideal candidate for evaluating microbial exchange and the potential for pathogens to be transmitted and emerge at the human-wildlife interface.”
With the exception of one mongoose troop, all study animals had some level of their range overlap with human populations. Two of the study troops had home ranges that included ecotourism facilities in the protected area, with some contact with humans and development “but at a much lower level than in the village troops,” the article reported.
Fecal samples were collected from these mongoose troops living in a protected area and in surrounding villages. Human feces were collected from sewage treatment facilities, environmental spills, and bush latrines or sites of open-air defecation within mongoose home ranges.
The team used Escherichia coli (E. coli), which is commonly found in the gut of humans and animals, as a model microorganism to investigate the potential for microorganisms to move between humans and wildlife. They evaluated the degree of antibiotic resistance considered an important signature of bacteria that arise from human sources.
The researchers also extracted data from the local hospital to assess antibiotic resistance among patients and identify resistance patterns in the region. Like many places in Africa, antibiotics are widely available and there are few controls on the dispensing of such drugs.
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