Apocalyptic warnings about antibiotic-resistance organisms are nothing new. And despite the CDC outlining its concerns in great detail, many people think the whole post-antibiotic threat is a load of bull. Unfortunately, a new study provides some specific evidence that the CDC is right — evidence in the form of bird shit.
A study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information identified antibiotic-resistant genes in the crap of 2.5% of the crow population it sampled across the U.S. While 2.5% may not seem like a high number, there are a hell of a lot of crows out there, and crows roam all over the place, which means that they’re spreading antibiotic-resistant genes all over the place. Bacteria like jumping genes, which helps them spread, and even though the CDC’s warning was grim, these resistant genes seem to be spreading even faster than the CDC anticipated. It’s bad enough that humans give these bacteria rides everywhere, but now they’re flying on and with the birds.
Antibiotic-resistant genes have spread via wildlife for a while now. Last year, a University of Iowa study found a resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus, a common cause of staph infections, in two rabbits and a bird. Earlier this year, some researchers from Virginia Teach found E. coli-resistant genes in mongoose living in Botswana. That study also found resistance to be greater in groups of animals living in a protected area than in groups of animals living in village areas, and that the humans and mongooses (mongeese?) in the area passed bacteria to one another through fecal microorganisms. Lovely.
If that’s not enough, antibiotic-resistant genes have also been discovered in whales (aw…really?), sharks, frogs, gulls, mouths, chickens, foxes, and flies, as well as in California and Washington sand and water samples. Scientists believe that humans are spreading antibiotic resistance to animals via waste sites such as dumpsters and sewage plants, as well as livestock. Birds in particular might be exposed to the bacteria from multiple sources, given how far they travel.
The fear is that the human-to-wildlife transmission will go the other direction, too, and that animals will pass the resistance back to humans as we eat them. Here’s yet another reason I’m glad to be vegetarian! Worse yet, maybe we don’t even have to eat them — exposure could potentially spread the resistance too, so I guess I’m not out of the woods. While there’s something poetically just about that, I think I’d really rather not play the “let’s transmit invincible bacteria back and forth” game with the other species on planet Earth. And I’ll make damn sure not to let any crows crap on me.