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Drug-resistant bacteria spread rapidly during travel

Wednesday February 24th 2021

International travellers are a high risk for transmission of drug resistant bacteria, according to a study published today.

Scientists tracked the global spread of intestinal multidrug resistant bacteria as part of a project to measure the impact of travel on the spread of these bacteria.

The team, led by Professor Alan McNally of the University of Birmingham, UK, monitored a group of European travellers who went to Laos in Southeast Asia for three weeks.

The gut health of the participants was measured by providing stool samples and daily health updates.

This showed that certain strains of bacteria colonised multiple participants who were staying at the same hotels and socialising together. For example, one identical strain was found in two participants who used the same shower.

Writing in The Lancet Microbe today (24 February), the authors explain that international travellers appear to be particularly vulnerable to virulent strains of drug-resistant bacteria.

They write: "The global spread of intestinal multidrug resistant gram-negative (MDR-GN) bacteria poses a serious threat to human health worldwide, with multi-drug resistant clones of E.coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae threatening more antibiotic resistant infections around the world."

Professor McNally said: “International travel is strongly linked to the spread of MDR-GN bacteria, with transmission highest in India and Southeast Asia, Africa and South America. Travellers visiting these high-risk regions are at substantial risk of acquiring the bacteria.

“Colonisation by MDR-GN bacteria is a highly dynamic process. We found constant ‘competition’ between circulating strains acquired by individual hosts and the travellers’ ‘native’ bacteria. Travellers can pick up the bacteria even during short visits and further spread the strains after returning home.”

Co-author Dr Jukka Corander added that the true scale at which drug-resistant bacteria colonise the intestinal tract during travel "has been seriously underestimated previously".

Kantele, A. et al. Intestinal multidrug-resistant bacteria contracted by visitors to a high-endemic setting: a prospective, daily, real-time sampling study. The Lancet Microbe 24 February 2021

[abstract]

Tags: Flu & Viruses | MRSA & Hygiene | UK News | World Health

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