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Chimpanzees Carrying Drug-Resistant Human Bacteria

Aug 22, 2012 07:59 AM EDT

A new study suggests that chimpanzees in African sanctuaries are carrying human strains of bacteria that are drug-resistant.

Researchers have found the African chimpanzees are carrying the pathogen Staphlyococcus aureus, which can spread to other endangered species of apes if the infected apes are reintroduced in the wild.

They tested chimpanzees from various sanctuaries across African nations by using modern technology to sequence bacterial genome and track the transmission of staph bacteria from humans to African wildlife.

They found 58 percent of chimpanzees had drug-resistant staph bacteria in two sanctuaries, located in Uganda and Zambia. "We thought that our study would find some pathogen transmission from humans to the apes, but we were surprised at the prevalence of drug-resistant staph we found in the animals," Emory University primate disease ecologist Thomas Gillespie said in a statement. "It mirrors some of the worst-case scenarios in U.S. hospitals and nursing homes."

While the bacteria does not harm the skin surface, it may cause infections to the skin if there was any wound on it. The bacteria can also spread to other parts of the body, and also from one person to the other. It can cause various types of illness such as urinary tract infections and food poisoning. It may also lead to life-threatening infections in humans.

According to the report from the Emory University, United States is facing more than 18,000 deaths every year due to the spread of drug-resistant staph. Now that the staph bacteria are found to be spreading from humans to wildlife, the effect of the infection in wild animals is still not known.

Researchers point out that the spread of staph bacteria among apes may pose a major threat to humans considering the close relationship between apes and humans."The chimpanzee may serve as an incubator where the pathogen can adapt and evolve, and perhaps jump back to humans in a more virulent form," Gillespie said in a statement from Emory.

Researchers hope that the study will help in formulating policies at sanctuaries that are facing tremendous pressure to send back the rescued animals to their natural habitat.

The findings of the study are published in the journal American Journal of Primatology.

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