Children's zoos can be filled with super-insects

Image: Jason Kempin (Getty Images)

According to preliminary research this weekend, goats and other animals that you love to touch at the petting zoo in your neighborhood may not be so harmless after all. This suggests that many zoo animals could harbor and potentially spread dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including two strains of Escherichia coli which cause foodborne illness and urinary tract infections, respectively.

Israeli researchers, including veterinarians, collected samples of poo, skin, fur and feathers from more than 200 animals belonging to 42 species living in one of the country's eight children's zoos. They then tested the samples for the presence of bacteria resistant to more than one class of antibiotics.

The team is interested in the discovery of two groups of highly resistant multidrug-resistant bacteria known as Enterobacteriaceae Extended Spectrum (ESBL) and Enterobacteriaceae producing lichen. AmpC (AmpC-E). These bacteria are among the most feared superbugs, largely because they carry mutations that make them resistant to a wide variety of antibiotics. Some of these mutations can also be easily transmitted to other species of bacteria, via mobile DNA fragments called plasmids.

Even more frightening, many resistant bacteria first develop in animals and then infect humans. This type of epidemic usually comes from livestock, but it can also be caused by milder animals. And it is the risk of infection that these animals represent that researchers, led by Shiri Navon-Venezia, a microbiologist at Ariel University, hoped to understand.

"We are interested in antibiotic resistance in pets (and not in farm animals) and in understanding the spread and transmission of multidrug-resistant pathogens in a single health perspective," he said. declared Navon-Venezia to Gizmodo by e-mail. Children's zoos in particular, she added, offer visitors many opportunities to come into direct and indirect contact with these germs. This could involve being licked by an animal or breathing in poop particles hanging in the air.

In total, they found that about 12% of the sampled animals carried at least one strain of ESBL or AmpC-E bacteria, while a quarter of these animals (3%) had multiple multidrug-resistant strains. Some of the bacteria found were relatively harmless, which means that they rarely cause diseases in humans. But resistant strains E. coli The ST656 and ST127 were much more disturbing. ST656 is a strain that produces toxins that can cause severe or life-threatening diarrhea, while ST127 is one of many strains that cause both extremely virulent urinary tract infections.

At present, none of these strains seem to cause huge epidemics with regularity. And the results of the team, entirely based in Israel, may not be fully applicable to other countries. But Navon-Venezia said that the chances of finding these bacteria, as well as other ESBL or AmpC-E bacteria, in children's zoos would probably be similar in all countries where they were already detected at high levels, especially in the countries of the South, East and West. Europe .

In the United States, more than 100 outbreaks between 2010 and 2015 began in children's zoos and animal shows, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vast majority of these outbreaks in the United States probably involved bacteria still sensitive to antibiotics, but it is only a matter of time (if this has not happened before) before pets and other animals pet do not become a common channel for these infections here too. Last year, a highly resistant influenza epidemic Campylobacter jejuni, a stomach virus, was eventually attributed to pet puppies; he has sickened more than 100 people in 18 states and hospitalized more than two dozen.

The findings of the team were presented this weekend at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Amdastam, which means they are preliminary. But Navon-Venezia plans to submit them for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. In the meantime, his research should serve as a quick warning to caressing zoos in order to remain proactive in the prevention of epidemics.

She suggests that zoos take precautions such as keeping areas reserved for food and drinks away from animals, while reinforcing the importance of washing hands after interacting with them. More diligent measures would be to actively monitor animals for resistant bacteria and to isolate animals with antibiotics from the rest of the population as they are more likely to develop and carry resistant bacteria.

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