NYC Mice Carry Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

They're cute until you remember they don't bathe regularly and can live in your homes

Two new studies reveal the disturbing germs mice in New York City carry.

"A report commissioned by the British government estimates that antibiotic-resistant bacteria will kill 10 million people per year by the year 2050, so coming up with new methods to generate antimicrobials is of huge interest, both from a scientific perspective and also from a global health perspective", de la Fuente-Nunez says. Lipkin suspects mice in other major cities carry it, too.

Now new research finds these furry animals carry bacteria that can cause abdominal pain or gastrointestinal distress in humans. Among these viral pathogens, the team found six viruses that had never been seen before in common house mice. They found evidence of pathogens capable of making us sick, and some of the microbial genes capable of making bacteria resistant to certain antibiotics. Primarily, the scientists caught the mice in or around garbage disposal areas in sub-basements, though five mice were trapped in food preparation/storage areas of a commercial building, and a single mouse was imprisoned in a private apartment. A genetic analysis of their droppings revealed that the mice carry several gastrointestinal disease-causing bacteria, including C. difficile, E. coli, Shigella, as well as Salmonella, a leading cause of bacterial food poisoning in the US with 1.4 million reported cases annually along with 15,000 hospitalizations and 400 deaths.

Dr. Scott Weese, an infectious disease specialist at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph who worked on the Vancouver study, said a bit of perspective is needed when evaluating the possible threat of mice spreading drug-resistant diseases. These included the culprits in sometime serious intestinal infections: E. coli, shigella, salmonella and Clostridium difficile.

Salmonella infections alone lead to 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths in the USA each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, they identified genetic sequences matching viruses that infect dogs, chickens, and pigs, suggesting the possibility that some of the viruses had crossed over from other species. Just last month, researchers reported that some rubber duckies contained "potentially pathogenic bacteria", though outside researchers expressed skepticism that playing with the toys at bath time was driving many cases of human disease.

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"This doesn't tell us that these mice are directly responsible for infecting humans".

"And that's because there's a lot of antibacterial resistance in the bacteria that people and many animals have, and of course those genes therefore are spread into the wider bacterial environment", he said.

The researchers say their study is the first to document C. difficile DNA in house mice in an urban setting. "That's the normal state of animals, and it's true of humans as well, and the vast majority of these bacteria and viruses are harmless".

Viney, who studies the immune responses of wild mice, noted that "an enormous amount is known about the immune responses of lab mice".

It's not clear how often that might happen, Lipkin said.

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