Superbugs could be transmitted to humans via plant foods

SAN FRANCISCO • Antibiotic-resistant bacteria could be transmitted to humans through consumption of plant foods, which may pose health risks for the general public, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) have discovered how plant foods serve as vehicles for spreading antibiotic resistance to the gut microbiome, according to a study presented last Saturday at ASM Microbe 2019, an annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.

During an experiment with mice, scientists observed that antibiotic bacteria or superbugs successfully hid in the intestines of the mice fed with lettuce contaminated with the antibiotic-resistant bacteria, E.coli.

"We found differences in the ability of bacteria to silently colonise the gut after ingestion, depending on a variety of host and bacterial factors," said USC researcher Marlene Maeusli, who is also the lead author on the study.

Unlike the outbreaks of diarrhoeal illnesses caused immediately after humans eat contaminated vegetables, the antibiotic-resistant bacteria can hide in human intestines for months or even years before they cause an illness such as a urinary infection, said the study.

"Our findings highlight the importance of tackling food-borne antibiotic resistance from a complete food chain perspective that includes plant foods in addition to meat," Ms Maeusli said.

Unlike the outbreaks of diarrhoeal illnesses caused immediately after humans eat contaminated vegetables, the antibiotic-resistant bacteria can hide in the human intestines for months or even years before they cause an illness such as a urinary infection, said the study.

About two million cases of antibiotic-resistant infections occur every year in the United States and 20 per cent of them are linked to agriculture, according to estimates from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The four-day American Society for Microbiology meeting ends today.

XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2019, with the headline 'Superbugs could be transmitted to humans via plant foods'. Print Edition | Subscribe