Researchers Warn Bird Droppings Carry Risk of Antibiotic Resistance

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( — November 7, 2022) Orlando, FL — Health authorities have long been strongly warning against the growing global health issue called antibiotic resistance, which is often caused by antibiotic misuse or overuse.

Research reveals that feces from ducks, gulls, and crows are in abundance with resistant bacteria and resistance genes.  

The Rice University environmental engineers who study antibiotic resistance said that bird droppings may actually pose more health risks than previously realized. 

The findings of this research can be found in Elsevier’s journal Environmental Pollution. 

In previous research, it has been found that bird-carried antibiotic-resistant genes (ARGs) and bacteria (ARBs) are transferrable to humans through inhalation of aerosolized fecal particles, swimming, or contact with feces or impacted soil. 

Studies have previously analyzed bird feces near ARG hotspots, such as wastewater treatment plants and drainage from poultry farms.

“We still do not fully understand what factors exert selective pressure for the occurrence of ARGs in the gastrointestinal system of wild urban birds,” Pedro Alvarez said. 

The study led by postdoctoral research associate Pingfeng Yu of Rice’s Brown School of Engineering. Yu is a member of the lab of civil and environmental engineers.

 Pedro Alvarez co-authored the study.

“Residual antibiotics that are incidentally assimilated during foraging is likely one of these factors, but further research is needed to discern the importance of other potential etiological factors, such as bird diet, age, gut microbiome structure, and other stressors.”

This research also included lead authors Huiru Zhao, a student at Nankai University in China, and Rice graduate student Ruonan Sun.

They compared “freshly deposited samples from each species gathered around Houston during the winter and summer months to samples from poultry and livestock identified to be carrying some of the same mutations. 

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