Spotted hyenas, giraffes, crocodiles, and a variety of other African wildlife carry antibiotic-resistant microbes similar to those found in nearby villagers, according to new findings published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases.
The team, led by Virginia Tech’s Sarah Jobbins and Kathleen Alexander, collected fecal samples from cattle and 150 animals spanning 18 wildlife species in the Chobe district of northern Botswana. They tested for resistance to 10 widely used antibiotics, then compared these results to that of human samples. They gathered 193 samples from both healthy and clinically ill patients at the local hospital, as well as 77 samples from a dozen environmental sources of fecal waste (latrines and sewage sludge, for example).
The team found that 41.3% of the wildlife samples and 94.3% of human clinical samples contained E. coli that were resistant to at least one of the 10 drugs tested. Additionally, 13.3% of wildlife and 68.9% of human samples harbored E. coli that’s resistant to three or more antibiotics. The E. coli from humans and animals showed similar patterns of antimicrobial resistance.
While resistance is widespread, it isn’t ubiquitous. Multidrug resistance was much higher in water-associated species, such as hippos, crocodiles, waterbucks and otters. "Surface water is a critical shared resource for humans and animals, particularly in dry regions of the world such as Botswana," Jobbins said in a statement. "It can also act as a powerful exposure medium for the introduction of resistance into populations never previously exposed to antibiotics." Multidrug resistance was also high in species living in urban areas
– such as mongooses, baboons, and warthogs. And because resistance likely accumulates up the food chain, multidrug resistance was high in carnivores and apex predators such as leopards and hyenas as well.
"Wildlife communities provide a unique opportunity for us to begin to understand how antimicrobial resistance moves across landscapes," Alexander explained. "Each species occupies a particular niche and interacts with the environment in different and specific ways, dependent on key life history strategy elements. Wildlife communities may then act as sentinels for ecosystem health, providing clues to points where humans, animals, and natural systems are coupled and transmission of antimicrobial resistance is occurring.”