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E. Coli Bacteria Migrating Between Humans, Chimps

Scientists from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana have found that people employed in chimpanzee-focused research and tourism// in a park in western Uganda are exchanging gastrointestinal bacteria – specifically Escherichia coli – with local chimpanzee populations. And some of the E. coli strains migrating to chimps are resistant to antibiotics used by humans in Uganda.

Other studies have found bacterial exchanges between humans and non-human primates – particularly in areas where the animals are known to frequent garbage piles near human settlements. But this is the first study to document the exchange of E. coli between humans and chimps in a protected wildlife area. It is also the first to find antibiotic-resistant strains in chimpanzees in Africa.

“Antibiotic resistance has traditionally been associated with two factors: indiscriminate and over-prescription of antibiotics by physicians in the developed world and the inclusion of antibiotics in animal feed in the developed world,” said Tony L. Goldberg, a professor of veterinary pathobiology and the principal investigator of the study. The new findings, Goldberg said, show that over-the-counter sales of antibiotics for human consumption can also have an impact on wildlife.

The research team, which included researchers from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, and McGill University in Montreal, examined two of 10 known communities of chimpanzees living in Kibale National Park, Uganda. One of the two chimp groups has been the focus of two decades of research by international teams of scientists. The other is regularly visited by employees of a local tourism venture.

Goldberg’s team compared strains of E. coli in the chimps to those of the Ugandans employed in research and tourism in the park.

The team also analyzed samples from people living in a village 5 kilometers from the research site and 25 kilometers from the tourism station. People i
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