One of the main concerns about the mutation of viruses has been confirmed as a reality. Researchers from the University of Texas have documented the presence of airborne antibiotic resistance. This is the first time that airborne antibiotic resistance has been documented outside of a clinical setting, and as an airborne gene transmission, not an exposure factor. This stands to lead to important discoveries about the nature of how to develop vaccines that can keep up with the protective mutation cycles of viruses to insure better protection for the human and animal population.
The discovery around cows
The team of researchers took multiple air samples in the open air feeding areas for cows at their research ranch. They were able to detect airborne gene markers for antibiotic resistance that implied that gene introduction could come through contact with the mucous membranes of an animal. Over 95% of all the antibiotics used in the US are used with animals designated for food supply. The development of antibiotic resistance in the herds could drastically impact the cost and availability of food in the US. It also has broad reaching implications for the safety of the human population as well.
What we thought resistance was has changed
Prior to these findings, airborne antibiotic resistance was thought to be passed via contact of the mucous membranes with airborne particles directly from the infected animal. The findings show that the exhalations of resistant animals can contain the gene that has mutated to become resistant that can then become inhaled or ingested by other animals – thus creating resistance within them. While this can pose a threat to the safety and security of the food supply, it is also essential for finding ways to control the spread of airborne antibiotic resistance more effectively.
What it could lead to
This discovery could lead to new ways of controlling the spread of resistance among farm animals, but it could also change the infection protocols for humans as well. Knowing that the gene can be airborne, hospitals may alter how they interact with those who have resistance built up. The researchers are currently working to determine the lifespan of the airborne resistance factor.