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E Coli Transferred Between Humans, Mountain Gorillas

November 25, 2008

Researchers say mountain gorillas face an enormous risk of contracting gastrointestinal microbes, like Escherichia Coli, from humans.

The study examines the exchange of digestive system bacteria between humans, mountain gorillas, and domestic animals with overlapping habitats.

The findings are published in Conservation Biology.

Researchers found gorillas had identical, clinically-resistant bacteria which could mean that antibiotic resistant bacteria are transferring from humans to gorillas.

The study noted gorilla populations that are the subject of research and tourism are particularly at risk.

For example, in rural Uganda, antibiotics are easily obtained over-the-counter and may not always be used appropriately. Evidence stems from high rates of antibiotic resistance in bacteria from people in rural Uganda.

Researchers wrote that even in highly controlled situations, mountain gorillas could be at increased risk of bacteria exchange with humans and domestic animals. The study said simply preventing contact between people and mountain gorillas may not be enough for stopping the exchange of microbes.

The study said additional action is needed like encouraging hand washing before and after entering the forest, discouraging human defecation in the forest, and mandating that people who enter ape habitats wear aerosol-limiting face masks.

Experts believe antibiotic resistance is a growing problem in humans; the presence of resistant bacteria in gorillas reveals more research and awareness is needed to fight the problem.

Image Caption: Low-temperature electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli bacteria, magnified 10,000 times. Each individual bacterium is oblong shaped.

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