Human use of antibiotics puts wild chimpanzees at risk

Near to Gombre National Park in Tanzania, where the primatologist Jane goodall carried out his first studies on the chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), the diarrheal diseases are common, which is why people turn to antibiotics cheap, sulfonamide compounds, available over the counter in small stores that act as informal pharmacies.

Overuse of these drugs creates the potential for more deadly, antibiotic-resistant superbugs to emerge

Thomas Gillespie, ecologist

Chimpanzees also tend to suffer from these types of ailments that are related to bacteria and others pathogens of the intestine that affect its ability to maintain caloric intake and absorb nutrients.

For this reason, a team led by scientists from Emory University in the USA has analyzed the genes that confer resistance to sulfa drugs, which are used as an antibiotic, in stream water and in fecal samples of human beings, domestic animals, chimpanzees Y baboons from the Tanzanian national park and its surroundings. The results have been published in the journal Pahogens.

“Most of the people in our sample harbored bacteria resistant to the sulfonamide medication they are taking,” he says. Thomas gillespie, lead author of the study and associate professor of the Department of Environmental Sciences and the School of Public Health of the American center.

“In those cases, they are wasting their money on a drug that is not helping them get better. In addition, the excessive use of these drugs creates the possibility of the emergence of more lethal superbugs resistant to antibiotics ”, emphasizes the expert.

A general antibiotic resistance

Resistance to sulfonamide It not only appeared in 74% of human samples in general, but also in 48% of chimpanzee samples, 34% of baboons and 17% of domestic animals. Sulfonamide also appeared in 19% of samples taken from streams shared by people, domestic animals, and wildlife.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are spreading from people to non-human primates by reaching the local watershed

Thomas Gillespie, ecologist

“Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are spreading from people to non-human primates by reaching the local watershed,” Gillespie warns. “People bathe and wash in streams, contaminating the water with drug-resistant bacteria that wild chimpanzees and baboons drink from,” he details.

At work, the researcher’s team also looked for genes that confer resistance to tetracycline, another class of antibiotics that people in the area use much less frequently, probably due to their higher cost and less availability. As the scientists expected, very few of the fecal samples from either group (humans, animals, and non-human primates), and none of the stream water samples, showed evidence of resistance.

Thomas Gillespie pioneered the approach One Health to protect humans, ecosystems and biodiversity; and its projects in Africa, including collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute in Tanzania, focus on helping farmers living in fragmented forests to coexist with primates and other wildlife to minimize the risk of inter-species exchange of pathogens. , which is known as spillover.

“It is important to take both aspects into account: Health and the wellness of human beings, as well as the conservation chimpanzees and other species ”, emphasizes the author. However, the presence of humans has taken its toll on the great apes, due to the habitat fragmentation and the pathogen exchange. Currently, the number of chimpanzees in Gombe National Park is reduced to about 95.

Scientists suggest that the appropriate use of antibiotics be directed at a local level so as not to harm the species in their environment, but it is also important to improve the hygiene of activities related to washing in the streams in the area, as well as the elimination of human waste, they conclude


Michele B. Parsons et al. “Antimicrobial Resistance Creates Threat to Chimpanzee Health and Conservation in the Wild” Pathogens

Rights: Creative Commons.

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