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Humans Responsible For Antibiotic Resistance In African Wildlife, Study Says

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Apr 25, 2013 09:51 AM EDT
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, workin
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 found that multidrug resistance among banded mongoose at the Botswana study site was higher in animals that live in a protected area than in village areas. (Photo : Virginia Tech )

A study of mongoose in Africa has revealed that the creatures have developed a resistance to antibiotics and researches say humans to blame.

The study also revealed that humans and the mongoose appear to be frequently exchanging fecal microorganisms, which increases the potential for disease transmission.

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Strangely, in the case of the banded mongoose, its measured resistance to multiple antibiotics was found to be higher in wildlife refuge areas where humans are scarce than in villages.  

"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, according to a press statement from Virginia Tech. 

"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."

Alexander, a veterinarian and researcher with the nonprofit Center for African Resources: Animals, Communities, and Land Use, has been conducting a long-term ecological study of banded mongoose in the region.

She and her team 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."

The researchers analyzed the mongoose fecal samples and compared them with human fecal samples collected across the survey region. 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 report indicates that antibiotics are widely available across Africa and few controls to administer the drugs are in place.

The researchers discovered 57 percent of banded mongoose had E. coli that was antibiotic resistant. "Resistance was identified among individuals in all sampled troops," the article reports

The study, "Tracking Pathogen Transmission at the Human-Wildlife Interface: Banded Mongoose and Escherichia coli,"  was published by EcoHealth.

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