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New study finds bird droppings carry risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria

Thursday, July 30th 2020, 12:12 pm - Bird droppings may be more of a public health risk than some people realize.

Bird droppings from gulls, ducks, and crows carry the risk of harbouring antibiotic-resistant genes (ARGs) and bacteria (ARB), making them more of a health risk that some people realize, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Pollution.

In the study, conducted by Rice University environmental engineers, it was found that some bird droppings have high levels of genes that encode antibiotic resistance harboured by "opportunistic pathogens".

While the authors did not analyze public health risks, the study's authors are encouraging people to be careful.

In an email to We Rep STEM, the authors say parents should prevent children from having direct contact with the bird feces, even when dry, and routinely remove droppings from infected spaces.


Past studies have found antibiotic resistant genes and bacteria can be transferred to humans through swimming, contact with infected droppings, or inhalation of aerosolized fecal particles, bu the new paper is among the first to analyze the prevalence, diversity, and seasonal aspect of their persistence.

In a statement, study co-author Pedro Alvarez says experts still don't fully understand why ARGs are present in the gastrointestinal systems of some wild birds.

Scientists believe it may be partly due to birds consuming antibiotics while foraging in nature, but further research is needed.

"Our results indicate that urban wild birds are an overlooked but potentially important reservoir of antimicrobial resistance genes, although their significance as vectors for direct transmission of resistant infections is possible but improbable due to low frequency of human contact," Alvarez said.


The authors say crows showed a "significantly" lower level of ARGs in the summer compared to ducks and gulls, likely due to differences in foraging habits and biological differences.

Still, the findings raise awareness about the presence of ARGs in the community.

"Due to the increasing overlap of human and wildlife habitats, more attention should be paid on wildlife-carried microbial contaminants," Postdoctoral research associate Pingfeng Yu of Rice's Brown School of Engineering and a lead author of the study told We Rep STEM in an email.

The study's authors are calling on additional research to better understand previously overlooked ARG sources, like wild birds, to understand the risk to public health.

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