Notice to tourists planning to start traveling again this summer: by going abroad, they may well bring with them “super bacteria” that have become resistant to drugs, a study published this week in the scientific journal Genome Medicine showed.
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American and Dutch researchers have studied the effects of international travel on bacteria in our stomachs, analyzing the stools of 190 Dutch travelers before and after they visited parts of Africa or Asia.
On their return, the tests showed a “significant amount” of antimicrobial resistant genes: these genes in particular make the use of commonly used antibiotics ineffective.
The researchers also found that a third of the participants who traveled to Southeast Asia had a gene resistant to an antibiotic of “last resort”, for example to treat infections like pneumonia or meningitis.
“These results clearly show that international travel risks spreading antimicrobial resistance around the world,” said Alaric D’Souza, co-author of this work.
In normal times, this resistance develops naturally over several millennia, due to the exposure of bacteria to natural antibiotics. But the increased use of antibiotics by humans has accelerated this process.
The study warns that this trend threatens 70 years of progress in infectious disease treatments.
According to the researchers, the resistant genes vary depending on the places visited.
They were particularly concerned about travelers returning from Southeast Asia with the MCR-1 gene, resistant to colistin, a “last resort” antibiotic used when others no longer work.
“It is vital that we tackle antimicrobial resistance in low income countries, with high resistance rates and low public health budgets,” said Alaric D’Souza.
“This international approach will not only help the countries in question, but it may also benefit others by reducing the international spread of resistant genes,” he concluded.