Antibiotic resistance is going to be one of the most pressing threats in the world. Antibiotic resistance has been linked with overuse of antibiotics in human medicine and in the production of livestock.
There have been several reports over the past few years of researchers finding that wild animals are harbouring bacteria that are antibiotic resistant. Resistance is not only occurring in the man made world, but far away from any civilisation.
Dr Michelle Power, from Macquarie University, said “It is worrying that we are seeing antibiotic resistance in bacteria of wild animals that have never been treated with antibiotics. Resistance genes from bacteria in humans and domestic animals are being spread through the environment to the naturally occurring bacteria of those wild animals.”
Dr Power found antibiotic resistance genes in Australian wildlife, including captive sea lions and rock wallabies, and penguins of Sydney Harbour. She speculated that resistance to antibiotics could be occurring through the use of mobile genetic elements called integrons. Integrons are capable of pass the genes and, thus, the ability to be resistant to some antibiotics to different species.
Kathleen Alexander, a disease ecologist at Virginia Tech in the United States researched E. coli, a food related bacteria that can be found in food and intestines of humans and animals. The research studied the spread of antibiotic resistance in humans, domestic animals and wildlife in Chobe National Park and in two village in northern Botswana.
It was found that forty-one per cent of the faecal samples that were taken and tested from 18 wild species contained E. coli resistant to one or two of ten antibiotics tested. Water seems to be the confounding factor to the spread of antibiotic resistance as animals associated with water, such as hippos, waterbuck and crocodile, were found to be resistance to more antibiotics than other species tested. Species that were resistance to more than one antibiotic tended to be animals also found in urbanised areas such as baboons.
However, the researchers warned that antibiotic resistance could be affecting whole food chains as it accumulates in each food level, peaking in the apex predator. Thus, carnivore species may be severely affected.
“Alarmingly, our research identifies widespread resistance in wildlife to several first-line antimicrobials used in human medicine,” Alexander said. “There is a need to be much more aggressive about controlling the spread of antibiotic resistance,” she continued. “We can harness life history diversity in wildlife communities to identify where contact with resistant microbes might occur in the environment.”
Howler monkeys, spider monkeys, tapirs, jaguars, a puma, a dwarf leopard, and jaguarundis were found to have bacteria resistant to antibiotics by wildlife biologist Jurgi Cristóbal-Azkarate, accompanied by a team of researchers from Cambridge, the University of Washington, and Fundación Lusara in Mexico City.
It is likely that animals are coming into contact with human or animal waste being carried in water systems along with the resistant bacteria. Researchers are concerned that the bacteria they have found that are resistance could mutate further into ‘superbugs’ – bacteria that are “difficult, if not impossible,” to treat, said Tony Goldberg, an epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin.
Resistance is being found everywhere. Even in remote areas of the world, resistance to the newest and most powerful antibiotics that have been made, is being found. Questions need to be asked as to how the wildlife are developing resistance to antibiotics even when there is little contact with civilisation and if the resistance is harming efforts to conserve some species. This research supports the proposal of the One Health Initiative, whereby wildlife, livestock and humans are linked and require synergism between physicians, veterinarians and scientists to overcome challenges in the environment and human civilisation.