A salmonella "superbug" found in a domestic cat in Sydney has experts concerned that it could infect humans and livestock.
The bug, discovered in a pet cat admitted to a veterinarian for a stomach infection, is resistant to several classes of drug, including carbapenems, the treatment Australian hospitals consider their last line of defense against salmonella.
"This is the first time that a salmonella strain with resistance to most antimicrobial drugs has been reported in any Australian domestic animal, and it is a significant concern to public health," said Dr. Sam Abraham in a statement. The Murdoch University researcher is leading a team that is assessing the risks posed by the bug.
"What makes this bacteria a superbug is because it has picked up a piece of DNA that gives this bacteria super powers, or resistance, to about nine classes of drugs that we usually use to treat humans and animals," Abraham told ABC.
Salmonella is a foodborne bacterial disease of the intestinal tract that causes symptoms such as vomiting, nausea and diarrhea for up to a week. Raw meats and poultry, fish, raw eggs and some types of produce are typical sources of the bacteria. In some cases, salmonella can spread from the intestines to the blood stream and result in death if not treated with antibiotics.
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The recent outbreak was contained within the Sydney veterinary facility, and thus far there have been no cases of the bacteria jumping to humans. However, of eight cats that were tested for the superbug at the facility, three were carrying it, two of which had not had direct contact with the sick cat.
"This outbreak was well contained, but the positive results from the other cats indicate that the bacterial species may be highly transferable," said research team member Dr. Richard Malik, from the University of Sydney.
Abraham said the last instance in Australia of such strong antimicrobial resistance was seen in a seagull colony off New South Wales.
"We are not sure how these birds were infected," he said, "and we are not ruling out the possibility of such resistant bacteria occurring in the natural environment."
The researchers stressed the rare nature of the new salmonella strain.
"This level of resistance is highly unusual in bacteria isolated from animals," said Darren Trott, of the University of Adelaide. "In a recent nationwide survey, we found no carbapenem resistance in bacteria from either companion animals or livestock."
"This cat was definitely very unlucky and had been living a pretty rough life before admission to the facility," Trott added.
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