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Are pets helping spread antibiotic resistant infections?

Scientists are investigating whether household pets may be helping spread antibiotic resistant infections.

A Massey University led research study is looking at how drug-resistant bacteria may be spread in households – including whether pets and suburban wild birds transmit antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Public health specialists and clinical microbiologists, in collaboration with veterinary researchers from Massey’s Molecular Epidemiology and Public Health Laboratory (mEpiLab) have begun conducting surveys in households of people with a multi-drug-resistant infection to see how their lifestyle, antibiotic use and interaction with other members of their family (including the furry or feathered ones) may contribute to the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Researchers from Massey University, postdoctoral fellow Zoe Grange and doctoral student Leah Toombs-Ruane, will use DNA sequencing of bacteria from human and animal faeces, to understand how multi-drug resistant bacteria may be transmitted between members of the household.

Project co-ordinator Dr Jackie Benschop says the World Health Organisation has identified antimicrobial resistance as a growing global issue and there is concern back home about an increase in the incidence of two particular types of antibiotic resistant bacteria, E. coli and Klebsiella, which the team will be investigating.

“Strains of the resistant bugs are spread through communities. We want to understand the dynamics of a small community, a family, to ultimately inform public interventions to reduce transmission.”

“It’s really important to inform public health programmes and policy through science.”

“Preserving the effectiveness of antibiotic drugs is vital to protecting human and animal health.”

It is also poignant given the announcement by the New Zealand Veterinary Association in July stating that by 2030 New Zealand will not need antibiotics for the maintenance of animal health and wellness. They say the key to achieving this goal is attitudinal and behavioural change all the way from government to the public.

Last year, the research team, led by veterinary public health specialist Professor Nigel French was granted $1,126,725 for the three-year project from the New Zealand Health Research Council.

The research is in collaboration with the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR), Labtests Auckland and the University of Otago.

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