Dog owners have been warned that regularly sharing a bed with their pets risks exposure to an "untreatable superbug".
A newly-emergent gene known as mcr-1 — which can make bacteria resistant to the powerful antibiotic colistin – was first reported in China in November 2015 and in the US in May 2016.
Scientists have since detected bacteria that are carrying the gene in samples from humans and animals around the world,
Dogs can harbour mcr-1 in the their gut, and it can be spread in tiny particles of poo that are invisible to the naked eye.
One possible means in transmission, scientists believe, is when humans and dogs sleep together.
Dr Juliana Menezes leads a team at the University of Lisbon, in Portugal, which is investigating how household pets could be acting as a reservoir of the gene and so aiding its spread in the community.
They took samples from from 126 healthy people living with 102 cats and dogs in 80 households in Lisbon between February 2018 and February 2020.
Samples from eight of the dogs (7.8%) and four of the humans (3.2%) contained bacteria with the mcr-1 gene. None of the cats carried the gene.
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Dr Menezes says that’s a worrying discovery: “Colistin is used when all other antibiotics have failed, it is a crucial treatment of last resort.
“If bacteria resistant to all drugs acquire this resistance gene, they would become untreatable, and that’s a scenario we must avoid at all costs.
“We know that the overuse of antibiotics drives resistance and it is vital that they are used responsibly, not just in medicine but also in veterinary medicine and in farming.”
The US Centre for Disease Control said: "Bacteria will inevitably find ways of resisting the antibiotics developed by humans.
"This is why it is more important than ever to slow the spread of resistance by following infection control measures for every patient."
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Harvard University researchers wrote that the emergence of bacteria resistant to our most powerful antibiotic is a "grim milestone” on the road to the end of the antibiotics era. It's been predicted that by 2050 there could be 10 million deaths from drug-resistant infections per year.
The discovery of antibiotics has not only cured countless millions of people since British Alexander Fleming first identified penicillin in 1928, it also allowed doctors and surgeons to carry out more complex surgeries, which would have previously been impossible before because of the risk of deadly infections.
During the second world war, for example, it’s been calculate start antibiotics saved the lives of around one in seven British soldiers wounded in battle.
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The Harvard researchers said: "Bacteria have the ability to swap and share DNA, and thus may spread genes for antibiotic resistance. Because of this, in order to complete the puzzle of total antibiotic immunity, a bacterium merely needs to gather the various genes for resistance to each antibiotic from other bacteria.
"All of the required pieces are now present in the US, so it is only a matter of time before they all end up in a single ‘super-bug.’
"Such a bacterium would be untreatable and thus extremely dangerous, and would usher in what is known as the ‘post-antibiotic era.’"
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