Pets could be passing E.coli to their owners, a new study reveals that will be presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases in Copenhagen, Denmark between April 15-18.
This is one in a range of multi drug-resistant organisms (MDROs) that could be jumping between humans and their pets.
Antimicrobial resistance happens when infection-causing microbes, such as bacteria, viruses or fungi, evolve to become resistant to the drug designed to kill them.
Estimates suggest that antimicrobial resistant infections caused almost 1.3 million deaths and were linked to five million deaths around the world in 2019.
However, while heathy dogs and cats could be transmitting these MDROs, humans could be doing the same back to them.
Author Dr. Carolin Hackmann, from Charité University Hospital Berlin, Germany, said: “Our findings verify that the sharing of multidrug-resistant organisms between companion animals and their owners is possible.
“However, we identified only a handful cases suggesting that neither cat nor dog ownership is an important risk factor for multidrug-resistant organism colonization in hospital patients.”
The team studied over 2,000 hospital patients and their pets to find out whether cats and dogs play a role in the infection of hospital patients with MDROs.
They focused on the most common superbugs in hospital patients.
These were methicillin-resistant Staphyylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), third generation cephalosporin-resistant Enterobacterales (3GCRE) and carbapenem-resistant enterobacterales (CRE).
These superbugs can resist multiple antibiotics including penicillin and cephalosporins.
Between June 2019 and September 2022 nasal and rectal swabs were collected from 2,891 patients and their dogs and cats that lived with them.
Genetic sequencing was used to identify both the species of bacteria in each sample and the presence of drug resistance genes.
Whole genome sequencing was used to confirm the possible sharing of resistant bacteria.
The patients were also asked if they had suffered from a recent MDRO infection, used antibiotics, previously stayed in hospital or had used a urinary or central venous catheters.
They also gave information about the number of pets they lived with, how close they were with them, and their pet’s health.
Overall, 30 percent of hospital patients tested positive for MDROs, while 70 percent tested negative.
Of the patients who tested positive, 11 percent owned a dog and nine percent owned a cat.
In those who tested negative 13 percent had either a cat or a dog.
The 626 pet owners were asked to send throat and stool swab samples of their pets.
Out of the 300 pet owners, 400 pet samples were sent back.
Of these samples, 15 percent of the dogs and five per cent of the cats tested positive for at least one MDRO.
In four cases, the MDROs were the same species and showed the same antibiotic resistance between pets and their owners.
Only one of the matching pairs were genetically identical in a dog and its owner. The matching pathogen was E. coli, a common bacterium in the intestines of healthy people and animals.
Hackmann said: “Although the level of sharing between hospital patients and their pets in our study is very low, carriers can shed bacteria into their environment for months, and they can be a source of infection for other more vulnerable people in hospital such as those with a weak immune system and the very young or old.”
As this is an observational study the team could not prove that close contact with pets causes colonization with MDROs.
It could only show that these MDROs can be transmitted between pet and owner.
However, it is still unclear which direction this transfer happens.
Limitations to the study include possible under-reporting of MDRO in pets due to problems in taking swab samples, as they were done by the pet owners themselves.
The results also only show patients from a hospital in an urban area, meaning it cannot be an accurate representation for the general population or MDRO high risk groups like livestock farmers.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker