Stowed away in the guts of international travelers, new and potentially deadly strains of antimicrobial-resistant superbugs may find their way into a nearby community, new research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis Suggest.
International travelers may unknowingly pick up numerous genes that promote microbial resistance (Reuters).
“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew that international travel was contributing to the rapid global rise and spread of antimicrobial resistance,” said Alaric D’Souza, a doctoral student at the University of Washington and co- first author of the study to be published June 6 in Genome Medicine.
“But what is new here is that we have found numerous completely new genes associated with antimicrobial resistance that suggest a worrisome problem on the horizon.”
Research confirms that international travelers often return home with an unexpected bounty of new bacterial strains jostling for position among the thousands that normally reside within the gut microbiome.
Poverty, poor sanitation, and changing agricultural practices have turned many low-income developing regions into hot spots for bacteria-borne diseases, including infections that are increasingly resistant to a variety of antibiotic treatments.
High population densities make it easy for these bacteria to be shared among community residents and travelers through exposure to contaminated drinking water and food, or poorly disinfected bathrooms, restaurants, hotel rooms, and public transportation. On the way home, travelers run the risk of transmitting these new bacteria to family, friends, and other community residents.
The research, conducted with the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, involved the analysis of bacterial communities in the gut microbiomes of 190 Dutch adults before and after traveling to one of four international regions where the prevalence of resistance genes is high. : Southeast Asia, South Asia, North Africa. and East Africa.
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The fecal samples analyzed as part of the study were randomly selected from a larger multicenter investigation of approximately 2,000 Dutch travelers, the majority of whom were tourists, known as the Carriage Of Multi-Resistant Bacteria After Travel (COMBAT) study.
“We found significant travel-related increases in the acquisition of bacteria-encoded resistance, abundance and diversity genes that are endemic to the visited region,” said D’Souza.
“These findings provide strong support for international travel as a vector for the global spread of clinically important antimicrobial resistance genes and highlight the need for broader surveillance of antimicrobial resistant bacteria in the gut microbiomes of travelers that they return “.
The new study was designed by co-lead authors John Penders, a medical microbiologist at Maastricht University, and Gautam Dantas, PhD, professor of pathology and immunology at the University of Washington.
Manish Boolchandani, PhD, a member of the Dantas Lab during research and a 2020 graduate of the university’s doctoral program in Computational and Systems Biology, is also the first author of the paper.
The World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other agencies have described the rapid spread of antimicrobial resistance as one of the most serious public health threats facing the world: an imminent medical catastrophe that could overcome the created chaos.
For the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While previous studies have scanned travelers’ stool samples for known antimicrobial resistant bacteria, we used a combination of full metagenome shotgun sequencing.