Wednesday 23 October 2019

Eating fish supper may expose you to superbug

Risk: Untreatable, drug-resistant bacteria may be found in fish
Risk: Untreatable, drug-resistant bacteria may be found in fish

Henry Bodkin

A plate of fish and chips is increasingly likely to expose people to untreatable bacteria because of the spread of superbugs at sea, research has found.

A study of dolphins revealed a surge in the marine environment of antibiotic-resistant bugs that are dangerous to humans.

While the mammals themselves are eaten in very few parts of the world, they are considered a good indicator for the safety of sea life that does end up as food.

Investigators at Florida Atlantic University periodically captured, swabbed then released bottlenose dolphins from 2003 to 2015 in the Indian River Lagoon on the US Atlantic coast.

They found that between 2009 and 2015, resistance in various strains of E.coli to common antibiotics more than doubled, while the resistance to drugs of a pathogen called Vibrio alginolyticus, known to cause serious seafood poisoning, also showed a significant rise.

Scientists also found evidence of resistant Acinetobacter baumannii, traditionally the cause of serious hospital-acquired infections.

The findings, published in the journal 'Aquatic Mammals', raise the prospect that people who eat raw or undercooked fish could fall ill with bugs for which there are no useful medicines, and come days after Public Health England (PHE) revealed there have been 19 new drug-resistant types of bacteria discovered in the UK over the past 10 years.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the gravest public health emergencies facing the world, threatening to make common infections deadly for the first time in almost a century.

AMR occurs when the DNA of bacteria mutates, or different types of bacteria acquire DNA from each other, rendering antibiotics ineffective.

It has been driven by profligate use of antibiotics in both human and animal healthcare and because no new classes of the drugs have been developed in decades. PHE estimates that roughly 5,000 people die in Britain each year because of the problem.

Adam Schaefer, who led the Florida research, said: "We have been tracking changes over time and have found a significant increase in antibiotic resistance in isolates from these animals.

"This trend mirrors reports from human healthcare settings. Based on our findings, it is likely that these isolates from dolphins originated from a source where antibiotics are regularly used, potentially entering the marine environment through human activities or discharges from terrestrial sources."

Dr Peter McCarthy, the co-author, described the drug resistance found during the study as a "significant public health concern".

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