A highly transmissible strain of superbug circulating in European hospitals has been found in hedgehogs living in the cities of Helsinki, Finland.
It is not known whether drug-resistant bacteria are a health concern for hedgehogs, but it is clear that urban wildlife needs to be closely monitored to limit the emergence of new antimicrobial resistance traits in the future.
The findings from the University of Helsinki were recently presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Portugal.
Superbugs are pathogens that have become resistant to antibiotics and other drugs commonly used to treat the infections they cause. One of the best known is a group of bacteria known as methicillin-resistant. staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). ANOther common bacteria in humans, E. coliit can also gain drug resistance by developing ESBL enzymes that break down and destroy some commonly used antibiotics.
Once these bacteria infect humans, they can cause a variety of conditions, including pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and skin infections, which are extremely difficult to treat with the conventional selection of drugs.
In this new study, researchers analyzed samples from 115 European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) from the Korkeasaari Zoo Wild Animal Hospital in Helsinki to find that 10 percent were colonized by at least one MRSA-producing bacterial strain and 9 percent had at least one ESBL-producing strain
They also found that four hedgehogs carried a specific strain, mecA-MRSA (t304/ST6), which has been rampaging through hospitals in northern Europe in recent years.
“Surprisingly, we also found that about 10 percent of hedgehogs tested positive for ESBL-E-producing bacteria, twice the prevalence in humans and companion animals in Finland (5 percent).” saying Venla Johansson, study author and doctoral student at the University of Helsinki.
“Our findings could indicate a spillover of antimicrobial resistance from anthropogenic sources into urban wildlife, possibly creating secondary reservoirs in the environment from which clinically significant resistance can spread elsewhere.”
Overuse of antibiotics is one of the main drivers of antibiotic resistance in the modern world. Oddly enough, however, hedgehogs were responsible for the appearance of the first MRSA superbugs long before the widespread clinical use of antibiotics. AN published study earlier this year he discovered that the skin of hedgehogs is home to a fungus that secretes antibiotics, causing bacteria to have developed antibiotic resistance in response.
Back in Finland, it appears that the hedgehogs caught the infection from humans. The study found that two E. coli The strains found in hedgehogs, ST68 and ST69, are often the cause of serious bladder and bloodstream infections in people.
Exactly how they acquired the infection is still unknown, but it likely was acquired through a human source, such as waste or agricultural runoff that contained the bacteria with antibiotic-resistant genes.
“All wildlife and livestock carry many different types of bacteria, so there are many candidates for dispersal in urban settings, including humans themselves. In addition, anthropogenic sources, such as waste, agricultural runoff, and domestic sewage, have been linked to the transmission of antimicrobial resistance to wild animals,” said Johansson.