Thursday, July 30, 2015

Antibiotic resistance in wild #penguins amplifies global health problem

Simon Lauder reported this story on Thursday, July 30, 2015
ELEANOR HALL: A wildlife researcher is raising the alarm about the spread of superbugs to wild animals.

The spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria is one of the world's most worrying health problems.

This morning Dr Michelle Power from Macquarie University told an international wildlife disease conference in Queensland that she's uncovered evidence that antibiotic resistance is spreading beyond people to wild animals, including the little penguins of Sydney Harbour.

Dr Power has been telling our reporter Simon Lauder that her research is another sign that superbugs could be impossible to contain.

MICHELLE POWER: So we've looked at four different animals. One is penguins, little penguins, the second one is the Australia sea lions which are endangered. The third is brush-tailed rock wallabies and our fourth is actually flying foxes.

SIMON LAUDER: Did you find all had antibiotic resistant bacteria in them?

MICHELLE POWER: Not all of them. Flying foxes don't have antibiotic resistant bacteria, but the Australia sea lions, the little penguin and also the brush-tailed rock wallabies do.

SIMON LAUDER: What kind of prevalence are you talking about?

MICHELLE POWER: The prevalence is fairly low. In wild colonies, we don't tend to see it too much, but it's more in captive colonies where you have that increased interaction with humans which is where the antibiotic resistance is likely to come from and so it can range from as little as 10 per cent up to about 40 per cent, 45 per cent.

SIMON LAUDER: I understand you did find some antibiotic resistance in some wild colonies of little penguins?

MICHELLE POWER: We did. That was a pilot study. We detected resistance in three of about 20 animals, but it's early days for that little colony and so yes, so that was the one in Sydney Harbour over in Manly.

SIMON LAUDER: And obviously the little penguins in Sydney Harbour wouldn't be taking antibiotics so where are they getting their resistance from?

MICHELLE POWER: Okay, so essentially the machinery that causes antibiotic resistance or is responsible for antibiotic resistance in many bacteria is actually quite common in healthy humans, not only sick people, and it's excreted into sewerage via faeces and wastewater and then the mechanisms can make their way into the environment essentially.

SIMON LAUDER: So is that people who have antibiotic resistance and then their waste ends up in the harbour?

MICHELLE POWER: Pretty much, yes. The DNA elements or the machinery aren't actually broken down through the sewage processes so it's the DNA elements that can end up in the harbour and also bacteria also from wastewater runoff from domestic animals as well.

SIMON LAUDER: The spread of superbugs worldwide is a massive problem. What does your research tell us about the hopes of containing that spread?

MICHELLE POWER: Well, I guess essentially one of the issues with the spread of antibiotic resistance is that is a four way mechanism. So we have antibiotic resistance that's quite common and that it has been selected for in humans.

Humans are then contaminating or polluting the environment through various sources but resistance is also now present in production animals and domestic animals, so essentially when their faeces is making the way into the environment, or their poo into the environment, they're distribution of bacteria are also.

So essentially what we're trying to do is to understand how bacteria and antibiotic resistance is moving between that interface - humans, domestic animals and wildlife - and how we can control transmission and understand it from a one health perspective instead of one of those corners alones.

SIMON LAUDER: So presumably wild animals can now pass this resistance among themselves as well?

MICHELLE POWER: Yes, exactly so when we're potentially intervention it or trying to recover or conserve animals, if they've been in an environment where they've picked up antibiotic resistance and they're released into an environment where there's wild animals, they can potentially pass.

But this is an area of study that we don't actually understand and that's something we're also looking at.

So what's the fate of these mechanisms when they do make their way out into the wild?

SIMON LAUDER: What are your concerns about the implications for this finding, for that great world health problem of antibiotic resistance?

MICHELLE POWER: The biggest concern is that essentially that machinery that causes antibiotic resistance are passing through lots of different animals, including humans, then back into the environment and when they're in the environment they can actually get more super powers and pick up different genes that may also given them the ability to resist multiple antibiotics and then they can make their way back again after going through the environment, back into humans or the hosts.

So you can have this amplification of resistance essentially.

So that's one of the biggest concerns I think and obviously control as well into the future if we continue to have this emergence.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Dr Michelle Power from Macquarie University, speaking at the International Wildlife Diseases conference in Queensland and to our reporter, Simon Lauder


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