According to new research, you may have no place on earth to hide from germs dangerously resistant to antibiotics.
Swedish researchers say drug-resistant bacteria have been found on northward-bound birds and have even infiltrated the Arctic, one of the last outposts of wilderness. The fact that these microbes have now reached one of the most remote places on Earth sheds light on how rampant such germs have become closer to home, say the researchers .
The use and misuse of antibiotics over the past few decades have led to the evolution of microbes resistant to many of the most common drugs against them. This has rendered more and more bacterial infections difficult or impossible to treat.
"Escalating resistance to antibiotics over the last few years has crystallized into one of the greatest threats to well-functioning health care in the future," says researcher Jonas Bonnedahl, an infectious disease physician at Kalmar University in Sweden.
The scientists examined bacteria from the Arctic with the assumption that germs in such distant climes would be far beyond the reach of human influence.
"We were extremely surprised" to find otherwise, says researcher Bjorn Olsen, an ornithologist and infectious disease physician at Uppsala University in Sweden.
Olsen, Bonnedahl and colleagues ventured out into the Arctic aboard the icebreaker Oden. Making their way onto the shores of northeastern Siberia, northern Alaska and northern Greenland via inflatable boats , they took fecal specimens or rump swabs from 97 birds. Bacteria from these samples were cultivated directly in special laboratories onboard the icebreaker and further tested against 17 different drugs at a microbiological laboratory in Sweden.
The scientists found eight of the samples displayed antibiotic resistance. Four of the samples proved resistant to four to eight of the 17 drugs tested.
"We took samples from birds living far out on the tundra and had no contact with people," says Olsen . The fact that these samples possessed drug-resistant bacteria "further confirms that resistance to antibiotics has become a global phenomenon and that virtually no region of the Earth, with the possible exception of the Antarctic, is unaffected", he adds.