WORLD NEWS Warning over spread of killer superbugs by migratory birds

By Anne Gulland

BIRDS and bats may be spreading 
superbugs around the cities of developing nations and beyond because of poor management of human and animal waste, researchers have warned.

Seed-eating birds, scavengers such as storks, and fruit bats in Nairobi, Kenya, carry high levels of bacteria, including E.coli, that resist antibiotics. If these bugs are passed to migrating birds they could be carried all the way to Europe, a report in The Lancet Planetary Health journal suggests.

While the study did not show that these resistant bacteria have been passed on to humans, researchers warned that a superbug could emerge from the “brew” of wildlife, livestock and residents living in the sprawling cities of developing nations.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is an increasing global threat, with a recent report from the United Nations warning that, if left unchecked, it could kill 10 million people by 2050.

Scientists from the University of 
Liverpool and the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi took faeces samples from wildlife, livestock and humans in household compounds across the city – from slums to the most affluent areas.

They tested them for the presence of E.coli and the prevalence of resistance to 13 different antibiotics.

Of the 2,000 samples collected, 485 were found to harbour E.coli – and half of these were resistant to more recently developed antibiotics, such as cephalosporins and fluoroquinolone, drugs that the World Health Organisation considers crucial for human medicine.

There were higher levels of multi-drug resistant superbugs in both 
 humans and livestock, but the 
researchers say their findings show that birds are a particularly important vehicle for spreading AMR.

In cities, birds and bats feed at sewage treatment plants, tips and on waste from abattoirs, picking up superbugs excreted from humans and livestock.

Grahame White