Study shows Auckland householders share antibiotic-resistant bacteria with pets

Results of a recent study of 27 Auckland households showing people and pets can share the same antibiotic resistant strains of E.coli is a timely reminder of the threat of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR).

World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (18-24 November) is a World Health Organisation initiative promoting action on AMR to avoid the further emergence and spread of drug-resistant infections.

AMR occurs when antimicrobial medicines, including antibiotics, become less effective at treating infections. AMR is considered a global threat to human and animal health.

Study co-authors, Distinguished Professor of Food Safety and Veterinary Public Health Dr Nigel French, Dr Sara Burgess and Dr Jackie Benschop, from the School of Veterinary Science at Massey University, say the findings are a timely reminder for New Zealanders about this global health issue.

“Pets are regarded as a part of the family in many New Zealand households. With one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, it is an issue we should all be aware of,” says Dr French, who is also a member of the New Zealand Veterinary Association’s Antimicrobial Resistance Committee.

The study looked at the transmission of Extended-spectrum-beta-lactamase (ESBL) and AmpC beta-lactamase (ACBL) producing Escherichia coli bacteria in 27 households inhabited by people and pets.

“These strains of E.coli are the most common cause of multidrug-resistant urinary tract infection in New Zealand. These sorts of infection can also have serious health implications,” says Dr Burgess.

In five of eleven households in the study, whole genome sequence analysis found both strains to be present in people with urinary tract infection as well as those without urinary tract infection.

“These results also suggest there is sharing of antibiotic resistant bacteria between people in the home and between people and their companion animals, including the family dog,” says Dr Benschop.

“They are significant from a public health perspective when it comes to our efforts to minimise community transmission, and highlight the need for considering interventions in the household.”

New Zealand Veterinary Association Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Helen Beattie says while New Zealand has one of the lowest rates of antimicrobial resistance, we should not be complacent.

“The New Zealand Veterinary Association has an ambitious goal that by 2030 antibiotics will not be needed to maintain animal health and welfare. We will need to work together to meet this goal.”

Dr Beattie says that New Zealand pet owners can play a role in helping to achieve this target.

“Making sure your pet has regular check-ups, good nutrition and keeping their vaccination schedule up to date is not only the best way to look after their health, it also helps in the national effort to combat AMR.

“Prevention of disease reduces the need for the use of antimicrobials. Good household hygiene, which includes things like regular hand washing and not allowing your pets to lick your face, are useful ways to help reduce the need to use antimicrobials.”