Australia Seagulls Carry Superbugs that are Resistant to Antibiotics

Noisy and persistent seagulls are notorious for pestering beachgoers in Australia

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australia seagulls
FILE - A woman watches as two seagulls fight over a chip stolen off her lunch plate in Sydney, Australia, Nov. 6, 2013. VOA

Seagulls across Australia are carrying superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics, according to scientists.  The birds are carrying bacteria such as E. coli, which can cause urinary tract infections and blood disorders. There are fears that disease-causing bacteria may spread from the seabirds to people, as well as livestock and pets.

Noisy and persistent seagulls are notorious for pestering beachgoers in Ausprstralia.  Researchers at Murdoch University in Perth have found more than a fifth of silver gulls across the country were carrying bacteria, such as E coli, that are resistant to drugs.  It is thought the seagulls contracted the bugs from sewage and soiled diapers or “nappies” while scavenging on garbage dumps and bins.

Scientists believe the pathogens could then be passed back to people who touched the birds’ feces, although hand-washing would reduce the risk.  One sample showed resistance to a last-resort antibiotic that’s used for severe infections.  It is thought to be the first time resistance to this type of drug has been recorded in an Australian wild animal. Dr. Sam Abraham, a microbiologist at Murdoch University, says the source of bacteria in the birds is most likely household waste.

australia seagulls
They are urging the Australian government to look at ways to stop the seabirds and other wildlife from scavenging at waste dumps. Wikimedia Commons

“We believe the seagulls were picking it up from humans.  These are bacteria that reside in [the] human gut, and we think that the seagulls are getting in touch with human feces somehow through sewage, or through nappies or incontinence pads from nursing homes and probably through the waste dumps where these seagulls go and scavenge,” he said.

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The study has been published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, and was led by researchers at Murdoch University in Western Australia. They are urging the Australian government to look at ways to stop the seabirds and other wildlife from scavenging at waste dumps.

Australia’s federal health department said gulls were not part of existing antibiotic-resistance checks because the risk of transmission from the birds to people had not been established.  It said it was concerned about the spread of diseases that were resistant to “antimicrobial agents.” (VOA)