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«The passage can take place through kisses and caresses»

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«The passage can take place through kisses and caresses»

There is nothing more tender and comforting than kissing or hugging your dog or cat. However, such simple and spontaneous gestures could hide dangerous pitfalls. More precisely, they could open a passage for the transmission of “superbugs” against which the antibiotics we have at our disposal have no effect. Shedding the spotlight on the important role of pets, dogs and cats, in the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a study conducted in Portugal and the United Kingdom, which will be presented by Juliana Menezes of the University of Lisbon at the European Society congress of clinical microbiology and infectious disease, which will be held in Barcelona from 27 to 30 April. Researchers have found evidence of transmission of multidrug-resistant bacteria from sick dogs and cats to their healthy owners, raising fears that pets could serve as reservoirs of resistance and thus help spread infections we have no weapon against. .

Dogs and cats, superbug alert (resistant to antibiotics): they could infect their owners

The antibiotic resistance alarm

«The study tells us that the spread of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms is not only linked to hospitals or medical malpractice, but that it has reached such alarming levels that it has reached homes and families where pets also live», comments Maurizio Sanguinetti, director of the Department of Laboratory and Infectious Sciences, director of the Microbiology UOC, A. Gemelli IRCCS University Hospital, full professor of Microbiology at the Catholic University. «Antibiotic resistance is reaching dangerously high levels around the world. Drug-resistant infections – it continues – kill more than 1.2 million people a year globally. If adequate measures are not taken, the death toll is expected to rise to 10 million by 2050.” This is why the World Health Organization (WHO) classifies antibiotic resistance as one of the greatest threats to all of humanity.

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I study

In the study, stool and urine samples and skin swabs from dogs, cats and their owners were tested with the aim of identifying Enterobacterales, a large family of bacteria that includes E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae, resistant to common antibiotics. The researchers focused on bacteria resistant to third-generation cephalosporins, which are used to treat a wide range of conditions, including meningitis, pneumonia and sepsis, and which have been ranked among the most important antibiotics for human medicine since ‘WHO. The study also looked at bacteria resistant to carbapenems, drugs used as a last line of defense when other antibiotics have failed. In total, 5 cats, 38 dogs and 78 humans from 43 households in Portugal and 22 dogs and 56 humans from 22 households in the UK were involved. All humans involved were healthy, while the pets had skin and soft tissue infections or urinary tract infections. In particular, in Portugal, a dog (1/43 pets, 2.3%) was colonized by a multidrug-resistant Escherichia coli strain that produces OXA-181, an enzyme that confers resistance to carbapenems. Three cats and 21 dogs (24/43 pets, 55.8%) and 28 owners (28/78 owners, 35.9%) harbored Enterobacterales producing ESBL/Amp-C, enzymes that confer resistance to third-party cephalosporins generation. In five families, one with a cat and four with dogs, both the pet and the owner carried the ESBL/AmpC-producing bacteria. Genetic analysis showed that the strains were the same, thus confirming transmission between the pet and the owner. In one of these five families, a dog and its owner also had the same strain of Klebsiella pneumoniae. In the UK, one dog (1/22 pets, 14.3%) was colonized with two multidrug-resistant E. coli strains producing NDM-5 beta-lactamase. These E. coli were resistant to third-generation cephalosporins, carbapenems, and several other families of antibiotics. British researchers isolated ESBL/AmpC-producing Enterobacterales in eight dogs (8/22 pets, 36.4%) and three owners (3/24 owners, 12.5%). In two families, both the dog and the owner carried the same ESBL/AmpC-producing bacteria.

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The transmission with kisses and caresses

Although it was not possible to demonstrate the direction of transmission, i.e. whether from animal to human or vice versa, the timing of the positive tests suggests that transmission occurred in some cases from dog or cat to human. «In my opinion, knowing whether the infection started from the animal or from humans is only relatively important», underlines Sanguinetti. «The fundamental message launched by this study is that we must become aware that the spread of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms has truly reached alarming proportions», he adds. The bacteria can be transmitted from animals to humans, and vice versa, through caresses, kisses and through handling feces. «This does not mean that we should no longer pet our dog or cat», specifies Sanguinetti. «It’s just that you need to be more careful, especially if immunosuppressed people are involved in the relationship, and take even more care of the animal by subjecting it to regular checks. Finally, in general, you need to be careful to practice good hygiene, such as washing your hands after petting the dog or cat and after coming into contact with their feces”, he concludes.


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