UI study reveals antibiotic resistant bugs in wildlife


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Antibiotic resistant bacteria is taking a walk on the wild side.

Research findings published this month reveled methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has been found in wild animals for the first time by Tara Smith, a University of Iowa associate professor of epidemiology.

The first kind of MRSA was discovered in hospitals in the 1960s. Since then, different strands have evolved in the community and in livestock. Now some of these strands have been discovered in Iowa wildlife — two rabbits and one bird.

“We knew that it could move between humans and animals, but no one had looked in wild animals, and that’s why we did the study,” Smith said.

The study was conducted in 2009 through 2010. Tested samples came from the Iowa State University Wild Life Care Clinic.

Linda Kauffman, a codirector of the clinic, said between 2009 and 2010, 114 animals were swabbed in either the nose or cloaca and then the swabs were mailed to Smith for testing.

“Anytime we are asked to participate in a research study, we try to accommodate that,” she said. “Our clinic is there to be more than just a rehabilitation center.”

Former UI graduate student Shylo Wardyn helped Smith in the study as part of her preceptorship for a master's degree. Wardyn said little is known about how the different strands of MRSA evolved and how it has spread to these animals.

“I think it definitely points to the fact that there needs to be more research in the area,” she said.

“MRSA transmission is a little bit hazy overall. It’s something that I think people should be aware of, and I think it’s just one of those things where the more you know about it, the more you can do to prevent diseases.”

Armando Hoet, an assistant professor coordinator in the Veterinary Public Health Program at Ohio State University, has studied MRSA. He agrees that more research is warranted for understanding how animals are obtaining the bacteria and stressed that the spreading of MRSA should not be blamed explicitly on the animals.

“MRSA is mostly a human problem,” he said. “When people see that MRSA could [be] circulating, or passed from animals to humans, they automatically make animals the scapegoat.”

Hoet said it is possible animals have gotten MRSA from humans, contaminated environment, or that an isolated strand has evolved in the animals on its own.

Hoet said the reason MRSA is such a concern is because it is unaffected by some of the most common types of antibiotics, such as penicillin.

“You no longer can use the NO. 1 source of antibiotics to cure [an infected] person,” he said.
Therefore, to treat infection, more expensive, and potentially more dangerous, antibiotics have to be used. Otherwise the infection could lead to pneumonia, damaged muscle tissue, or in extreme cases, death.

Smith said, as of right now, the only thing standing in the way of her conducting more research on MRSA is a lack of funds.

“If we had funding, I would like to do further studies.” she said. “[I] think they are important.”

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