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Diarrhea from pet dogs could potentially spread multidrug-resistant E. coli to humans, which could pose a threat to human health, according to new research published on February 28 in PLoS One.

Investigators found that dogs with multidrug-resistant E. coli shed the bacteria in 5 out of 10 cases, and many of the strains belong to groups of bacteria that commonly make people sick.

The study aims to add to what we know about antibiotic resistance, and it looks at an area that hasn’t been studied extensively, says Daniel Brailita, MD, an assistant professor of infectious disease at Nebraska Medicine in Omaha, who was not involved in the study. “In Nebraska and the U.S. in general, there have been similar studies, but mostly addressing the human food chain, such as cattle and chicken that were affected by prior antibiotic use,” says Dr. Brailita.

Although the study looks at dogs in a specific part of China, similar findings could be found in dogs in the U.S. as well, he says.

The Presence of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria ‘Ignored or Understudied’ in Pets

E. coli is a bacteria that’s a normal and important part of healthy intestinal tracts in both humans and animals.

 However, there are some strains of the bacteria that can cause food poisoning, urinary tract infections, and bloodstream infections in humans. In severe cases it can lead to life threatening health issues such as kidney failure and sepsis (the body’s extreme reaction to an infection).

Looking for antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animals is common practice in the United States, although the majority of screenings are in livestock because of the widespread use of antibiotics and the associated public and food safety risk, says Megan Jacob, PhD, a professor of veterinary microbiology at the NC State University College of Veterinary Medicine in Raleigh. “Companion animals have been ignored or understudied, but we are starting to appreciate the risk that they might possess, because their relationships and interactions with people are so much more intimate than with those other animal sources that we’ve that we’ve traditionally studied,” says Dr. Jacob, who was not involved in the research.

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