Antibiotic resistance: vultures wintering in India show pattern

E. coli in the wild birds became immune to some drugs within a few months

March 15, 2018 11:01 pm | Updated 11:01 pm IST - Chennai

Egyptian vultures.

Egyptian vultures.

Escherichia coli , a pathogen seen in over 90% of Egyptian vultures that migrate to northwest India to spend the winter, tend to show significant difference in resistance to antibiotics within a single season, a study has found.

“The vultures were resistant to certain antibiotics when they arrived and developed resistance to certain other antibiotics when they left. Their sensitivity to certain antibiotics also changed within a few months,” says Pradeep Sharma from the College of Veterinary and Animal Science, Rajasthan University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Bikaner, Rajasthan. A team studied vultures that arrived in Bikaner in October 2011 and left in March 2012. The birds fed on cattle carcasses dumped in Jorbeer in Bikaner.

The findings of the study, published in the journal Infection Ecology and Epidemiology , are significant because migrating wild birds can spread drug-resistant pathogens and cause disease.

The resistance to multiple antibiotics was as high as about 71.5% in E. coli collected from vultures. Resistance of 12-13 bacterial strains to 13 commonly used antibiotics was studied.

“The diversity of E. coli community in vultures changed and became homogenised by the end of the wintering period. This is due to the environment that the vultures were exposed to — carcasses, garbage, and domestic animals,” says K.S. Gopi Sundar of the Nature Conservation Foundation in Udaipur and one of the authors of the paper.

“There is not much difference in the percentage resistance to multiple antibiotics that are commonly used. What we found was a change in the pattern of resistance,” says Dr. Sharma, corresponding author of the paper. The study found a change in the resistance pattern of the E. coli within a single wintering season.

The vultures that use human-dominated landscapes as part of their life cycle were likely to act as “reservoirs and melting pots of bacterial resistance”, the study said.

The study also showed that vultures were able to incorporate and reflect resistance determinants at the site of wintering and during the period of sampling. “So guidelines to restrict antibiotic use in both humans and animals by one country or region alone will be inadequate when wild birds can spread drug-resistant bacteria,” says Dr. Sundar.

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.