Drug-resistant bacteria such as E.coli and MRSA could be passed from pets to humans, warns the Public Health England (PHE) while advising cautious use of antibiotics among the animals. Some forms of such resistant bacteria have been found in more than one in three dogs, higher than seen in humans.
Spread of these strains from pets can increase levels already circulating in humans and poses a heightened risk for both. Indiscriminate and improper use of antibiotics in animals is one of the main reasons for the spread of resistance.
International studies so far have pointed to a spread from human to pet and multiple strains of drug resistant levels of E. coli higher in humans.
A notice has been issued to pet owners in UK not to force veterinarians to administer antibiotics, and where necessary to ensure pets are given full drug doses. This follows a recent warning from the World Health Organization that levels of global antibiotic resistance are reaching "dangerously high levels".
Dr Diane Ashiru-Oredope, Pharmacist lead for the Antimicrobial Resistance programme at PHE said: "Many people do not realise that antibiotic resistant bacteria can pass between humans and animals and vice versa."
"It's important that people are aware of how transmission of these bugs can occur and how to minimise any risk, for example by practicing careful hand hygiene at all times."
Humans and pets are vulnerable to drug resistant infections such as MRSA and E.coli that mutate between species producing many types of ill-effects, writes the Telegraph. Pet owners are advised to be mindful of hygiene imperatives like washing hands before and after dealing with pets.
Humans to pets
Antimicrobial agents used in human medicine are frequently used in small animal veterinary practice, with heavy use of broad-spectrum agents such as aminopenicillins plus clavulanic acid, cephalosporins and fluoroquinolones. This has led to resistance among pet animals to various antimicrobial agents used against Staphylococcus intermedius, Escherichia coli and other bacteria, as shown in earlier studies.
Cats and dogs represent potential sources of spread of antimicrobial resistance due to the extensive use of antimicrobials and the close contact of the animals with humans. The number of cats and dogs was above 70 million in the EU countries a decade ago.
Antibiotic resistance has been touted as one of the biggest medical threats of the future. More people die from antibiotic-resistant bacteria than from traffic accidents in Europe.
Due to the time taken in developing new drugs and poor returns for pharma, only two new antibiotics have been approved since 2009. One of these was ceftaroline in 2010 but within a year it saw the rise of drug resistant staph germ. A new drug could be 20 years away.
Indiscriminate antibiotic use and self-medication have seen cases of bacteria developing resistance to colistin – which causes kidney damage but is still used as a last resort against infections. Globally, antibiotic use has risen by 36% during the last decade.
Dr Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organization, has warned that, "Things as common as strep throat or a child's scratched knee could once again kill."