14 January 2008
High Levels Of Antibiotic Resistance In Arctic Birds
by Kate Melville
The journal Emerging Infectious Diseases reports the worrying discovery that birds captured in the Arctic tundra are carrying antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The Swedish researchers behind the finding were surprised that antibiotic resistance had spread into what were thought to be relatively pristine ecosystems.
Taking samples from 97 birds in northeastern Siberia, northern Alaska, and northern Greenland, the scientists cultivated bacterial samples in special laboratories onboard the icebreaker Oden and carried out further analysis at the microbiological laboratory at the Central Hospital in V�xjö, Sweden.
"We were extremely surprised," says Björn Olsen, professor of infectious diseases at Uppsala University. "We took samples from birds living far out on the tundra and had no contact with people. This further confirms that resistance to antibiotics has become a global phenomenon and that virtually no region of the earth, with the possible exception of the Antarctic, is unaffected."
The researchers hypothesize that migrating birds passed through regions in Southeast Asia where there is a great deal of antibiotic residue in the environment and then carried the resistant bacteria to the tundra. "We already knew that birds in the Western world can be carriers of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, but it's alarming to find that these bacteria exist among birds out on the tundra," says co-researcher Jonas Bonnedahl. "Our findings show that resistance to antibiotics is not limited to society and hospitals but is now spreading into the wild. Escalating resistance to antibiotics over the last few years has crystallized into one of the greatest threats to well-functioning health care in the future."
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Source: Uppsala University