Nearly 1,000 stool samples from halfway around the world may show how to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance in developing countries.

Researchers at Washington State University’s Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health will analyze the samples from Bangladesh for antibiotic-resistant bacteria and antibiotic-resistant genes.

“Think about people going to hospitals with bacterial infections and they don’t have any antibiotics,” said Mohammad Aminul (Amin) Islam, assistant professor and lead researcher on the project. “This is the situation we are heading towards.

The stool samples were collected previously from children as part of a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the impact of clean water, proper sanitation and good hygiene practices (WASH) on diarrhea morbidity and child growth.

Now, through a WSU College of Veterinary Medicine Educational Research Grant, the samples will be used to determine if WASH have any impact on limiting the fecal carriage of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and, in turn, reduce the risk of others becoming colonized by those bacteria.

The stool samples come from two groups of children – those who had access to clean water, proper sanitation, and good hygiene practices, and those who did not.

Islam and his team at the Allen School will culture the stool samples on antibiotic selective plates for antibiotic-resistant organisms and analyze stool DNA samples for antibiotic-resistant genes.

“That’s how we estimate the number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and antibiotic-resistant genes,” Islam said. “Our ultimate goal is to see if there is a difference between the intervention and control groups in terms of carriage of antibiotic-resistant organisms and antibiotic-resistant genes.”

While antibiotic resistance kills thousands annually in the U.S., the problem is more common in south Asia and Africa. The threat stems largely from overuse of antibiotics by people and for agriculture.

The World Health Organization recognizes antibiotic resistance as a threat to global health and estimates 10 million deaths worldwide by 2050 if no effective interventions are made.

Islam said use of antibiotics in food-producing animals has increased dramatically in low- and middle-income countries in the last decade to sustain animal health and promote growth.

As animals are provided low doses of antibiotics over time, bacteria become antibiotic resistant. Islam said although animal production has increased manifold, the issues of biosecurity and waste management are largely ignored. As a result of improper management of human and animal waste, the environment is largely contaminated with antibiotic-resistant organisms and people exposed to these environments are subject to colonization by these bacteria.

Islam said the solution is not simple.

“We can’t prevent the farm operations from using antibiotics. If farmers don’t use antibiotics, a lot of poultry farms will shut down because they don’t have biosecurity management systems,” he said. “On the other hand, they are contributing to the ongoing demand of food for these huge populations.”

Islam is hopeful that WASH improvements will show meaningful impact on community acquisition and carriage of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the human gut.

“At the same time, we need to introduce and enforce biosecurity, waste management and good farm practices in animal farms to reduce the dependency on antibiotics,” he said. “Use of alternatives to antibiotics is another option which has growing interests.”

Results from the study are expected in the spring of 2020.

Media contact:

  • Laura Lockard, communications director, WSU College of Veterinary Medicine, 206-861-6884, laura.lockard@wsu.edu