It is well established that infectious diseases are the greatest threat to endangered chimpanzees made famous by Jane Goodall’s field studies in Gombe National Park in Tanzania. Today, new research from scientists at Emory University shows that nearly half of fecal samples from wild chimpanzees contain bacteria resistant to a major class of antibiotics commonly used by people near the park.
The newspaper Pathogens published the results.
“Our results suggest that antibiotic-resistant bacteria actually spread from people to non-human primates by making their way into the local watershed,” says Thomas Gillespie, lead author of the study and associate professor in the Department of Science. Emory’s environment and at the Rollins school. of public health. “People bathe and wash in the streams, contaminating the water with drug-resistant bacteria that wild chimpanzees and baboons drink from.”
Researchers tested genes conferring resistance to sulfa drugs – drugs often used by locals to treat diarrheal illnesses – in fecal samples from humans, pets, chimpanzees and baboons in and around the park. Gombe National. They also tested the stream water used by these groups.
Resistance to sulfonamides appeared in 74 percent of general human samples, 48 percent of chimpanzee samples, 34 percent of baboon samples, and 17 percent of domestic animal samples. Sulfonamide was also found in 19 percent of samples taken from waterways shared by humans, pets and wildlife.
The researchers also tested all of the study groups for genes conferring resistance to tetracycline – another class of antibiotics used much less frequently by people nearby, possibly due to its greater expense and the fact that ‘it is less available in the surface. As expected, very few fecal samples from any of the groups, and none of the stream water samples, showed evidence of tetracycline resistance.
The study’s first author is Michelle Parsons, who did the job as an Emory PhD student in environmental science. Parsons has since graduated and works at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Co-authors include researchers from the Jane Goodall Institute, CDC, University of Minnesota, and Franklin and Marshall College.
Gillespie is a disease ecologist who helped pioneer the “One Health” approach to protect humans, ecosystems and biodiversity. Its projects in Africa, including collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute in Tanzania, aim to help farmers who subsist amid fragmented forests to coexist with primates and other wildlife in a way that minimizes the risk of animal swapping. pathogens between species, known as “spillover”. “The virus that causes AIDS, for example, has spread from chimpanzees to humans.
“It’s important to look at both sides of the story – human health and well-being, as well as the conservation of chimpanzees and other species,” Gillespie says.
Human encroachment has taken its toll on great apes, due to habitat fragmentation and the exchange of pathogens. Today, the number of chimpanzees in Gombe National Park has dropped to around 95.
Diarrheal diseases are common in the area and people often turn to inexpensive sulfonamide antibiotics which are available without a prescription from small shops that function as informal pharmacies, selling medicine, soap and other essentials. . Wild chimpanzees also suffer from debilitating illnesses which can be linked to bacteria and other enteric pathogens that affect their ability to maintain their calorie intake and absorb nutrients.
“The majority of people in our sample contained bacteria resistant to the sulfa drugs they take,” says Gillespie. “In these cases, they’re spending their money on a drug that doesn’t help them get better. Overuse of these drugs creates the potential for more deadly, antibiotic-resistant ‘super bugs’ to emerge.
Research results will now support the development of interventions. More advice is needed locally regarding the appropriate use of antibiotics, says Gillespie. He adds that it is also important to improve hygiene for the activities related to washing in the rivers of the area, as well as to improve the disposal of human waste.
“By abusing antibiotics, people can actually harm not only themselves, but also the species with which they share an environment,” says Gillespie. “Once the drug-resistant bacteria jump into chimps, they can evolve further with chimps and then spill over into humans. We need to think about infectious diseases in evolutionary and ecological frameworks, which is not often done in medicine.