WEDNESDAY, April 6, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Humans and their pets tend to have a close bond, but they may also share antibiotic-resistant bacteria, new research shows.
Even worse for humans is the fact that these bacteria may contain antibiotic-resistant genes that can make bacteria they already have in their bodies resistant to some antibiotics, such as penicillin and cephalosporins, the researchers added.
“We found evidence of exchange of Escherichia coli resistant to cephalosporins colonizing the gastrointestinal tract of pets and owners,” said lead researcher Juliana Menezes, a doctoral student in applied microbiology at the University of Lisbon in Portugal.
“These results are crucial in demonstrating the importance of pet-to-human spread of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria critically important to human medicine in the community setting,” he said.
Still, this was an observational study and cannot prove that close contact with pets directly causes infection with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the researchers cautioned.
Of particular concern are infections caused by highly resistant strains with ESBL- and AmpC-producing Enterobacteriaceae (AmpC-E) and carbapenemase-producing Enterobacterales (CPE), which are resistant to multiple antibiotics.
Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to public health, because it can make diseases such as pneumonia, sepsis, urinary tract infections and wound infections untreatable, the study authors noted.
These findings reinforce the need for people to practice good hygiene around pets and reduce the use of unnecessary antibiotics in both animals and people.
For the study, Menezes and colleagues collected stool samples from 58 healthy people, 18 cats, and 40 dogs from 41 households in Portugal, along with 56 people and 45 dogs from 42 households in the United Kingdom.
Samples were collected over four months, and genetic sequencing was used to find the types of bacteria in each sample and any drug-resistance genes.
Between 2018 and 2020, researchers found that 15 of 103 pets (15%) and 15 of 114 pet owners (13%) carried ESBL/AmpC-producing bacteria.
Of these, nearly half of the cats and dogs and a third of the people had at least one multidrug-resistant strain of bacteria.
In four Portuguese households, the ESBL/pAMPc resistance genes in the pets were the same as those found in the owners’ stool samples. In two of the homes, the bacteria on the pets matched the E. coli strains found in their owners’ stool samples.
“Since the bacteria colonized the gastrointestinal tract, transmission was via the faecal-oral route, so good hygiene practices by owners would help reduce sharing, such as washing hands after picking up after their pets.” Menezes said. “Our results emphasize the need for ongoing local surveillance programs to identify risk to human health.”
The findings are scheduled to be presented April 23 at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Lisbon, Portugal. Findings presented at medical meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Dr. Marc Siegel, an infectious disease expert and professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, said, “It’s not surprising to me that bacteria, and thus resistance genes, can switch between humans and animals, and it’s a reminder for pet owners to be more careful.”
You could have E. coli that doesn’t have a resistance gene, but the one you get from your pet transfers it to you and then the next thing you know you have resistant E. coli, he explained.
Siegel said the growing problem of resistant bacteria is making common antibiotics less effective. And the problem is only going to get worse, he said.
“We’re not launching new antibiotics like we used to,” Siegel said. “So we don’t have the treatments to catch up with growing resistant bacteria.”
The problem is that there is little money to develop new antibiotics, Siegel said. “You take a pill every day, the drug company makes money off of it. If you take it only when you have a flare, they don’t, it’s that simple,” he said.
To avoid getting antibiotic-resistant bacteria from your pet, Siegel recommends washing your hands more often when you’re around your animal.
“You think your animal licking you is a sign of love, but it may not be doing you a favor,” he said.
For more information on antibiotic-resistant bacteria, head over to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCES: Juliana Menezes, PhD student, applied microbiology, University of Lisbon, Portugal; Marc Siegel, MD, professor, medicine, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York City; April 23, 2022, presentation, European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, Lisbon, Portugal
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