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Tufts Researchers Find Link Between Dog-Human Antibiotic Resistance

For many people, pets are family; just as close to them as the humans in their life. However, a new study suggests that closeness can create a concerning health issue making prescribed medicines less effective.

Scraps, a 9-year-old Great Dane/Bullmastiff mix, was recently on antibiotics related to an abscess under his collar. He finished with the medicines, but there is a lingering effect impacting not only him, but also his owner, Anne Marie Caggiano.

“We’re increasingly understanding the idea of One Health,” said Dr. Shira Doron, an infectious disease physician, associate hospital epidemiologist and antimicrobial steward at Tufts Medical Center.

One Health is the idea that animal, human and environmental health are all connected.

“There’s an impact on human health, when you give antibiotics to pets,” Doron said.

A recent pilot study she co-led appears to back that up that assertion. Researchers recruited eight dog-human pairs with help from doctors at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. They enrolled specifically pairs with close interaction, a group that included Caggiano and Scraps.

The researchers wanted to see if dogs given antibiotics would develop resistance to it and if that resistance could be passed on to their owners.

In the lab, researchers analyzed stool samples, looking for resistant bacteria. Through a technique using gels and ultraviolet light, they found identical resistance genes in three dog-owner pairs.

“Treating the dog and seeing that really affect the person is kind of a unique thing in this study,” said Dr. Annie Wayne, a veterinarian at the Cummings School and a co-author of the study.

She says the bacteria were likely passed through oral contact.

“If the person is giving the resistance gene to the animal or the animal is giving the resistance gene to the person, then it’s going to be harder to treat infections in either one of those,” Wayne said.

Caggiano and Scraps passed two antibiotic resistant bacteria strains to each other.

“I kind of at first felt bad that I gave my dog something. But in the next breath I was concerned because of what he had given me,” Caggiano said.

She plans to share that concern with her doctor.

“How would they know? I would just be taking the medicine and it wouldn’t be working,” Caggiano said.

One question still unanswered is just how close the dog-human contact has to be for the resistance transmission to happen. The researchers aren’t sure yet. They said the main point is to be cautious with antibiotic use in pets and humans.