A highly transmissible strain of superbugs circulating in European hospitals has been found in hedgehogs in the cities of Helsinki, Finland.
It is not known whether drug-resistant bacteria are a health concern for hedgehogs, but it is clear that urban wildlife needs to be closely monitored to limit the emergence of new antimicrobial resistance traits in the future.
The findings from the University of Helsinki were recently presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Portugal.
Superbugs are pathogens that have become resistant to antibiotics and other drugs commonly used to treat the infections they cause. One of the best known is a group of bacteria known as methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Aother bacteria common in humans, E.coliit may also acquire drug resistance through the development of ESBL enzymes that break down and destroy some commonly used antibiotics.
Once these bacteria infect humans, they can cause a number of conditions, including pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and skin infections, which are extremely bothersome to treat with conventional drug selection.
In this new study, the researchers tested samples of 115 European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) from Korkeasaari Zoo Wild Animal Hospital in Helsinki to find that 10% were colonized by at least one MRSA-producing bacterial strain and 9% had at least one ESBL-producing strain
They also found that four hedgehogs carried a specific strain, mecA-MRSA (t304 / ST6), which has been tearing apart hospitals in Northern Europe in recent years.
“It is surprising that we also found that around 10 percent of hedgehogs were positive for ESBL-E-producing bacteria, double the prevalence in humans and companion animals in Finland (5 percent).” She said Venla Johansson, author of studies and PhD student at the University of Helsinki.
“Our findings may indicate a fallout of antimicrobial resistance from anthropogenic sources to urban wildlife, possibly creating secondary reservoirs in the environment from which clinically significant resistance could spread elsewhere.”
Overuse of antibiotics is one of the main triggers antibiotic resistance in the modern world. However, oddly enough, hedgehogs were responsible for the emergence of the first MRSA superbugs long before the widespread clinical use of antibiotics. A published study earlier this year he found that hedgehog skin is home to a fungus that secretes antibiotics, causing the bacteria to develop antibiotic resistance in response.
In Finland, hedgehogs appear to have caught the infection from humans. The study found that two E.coli strains found in hedgehogs, ST68 and ST69, are often the cause of severe bladder and bloodstream infections in people.
It is not known exactly how they acquired the infection, but it is likely that it was collected from a human source, such as agricultural waste or runoff that contained bacteria with antibiotic-resistant genes.
“All wildlife and livestock carry many different types of bacteria, so there are many candidates for its dispersal in urban environments, including humans themselves. In addition, anthropogenic sources, such as waste, agricultural runoff and domestic wastewater, have been linked to the transmission of antimicrobial resistance to wild animals, ”Johansson said.