Seagulls from a species that feeds on rubbish are harbouring highly drug-resistant superbugs, a study has revealed.
In a study, researchers found that droppings from one in 10 yellow-legged gull Larus Cachinnans gulls carried superbug bacteria resistant to the “last resort” antibiotic vancomycin.
The white and grey birds, recognisable by their bright yellow legs, can often be seen flocking on rubbish tips, and are common in the southern parts of the UK.
Scientists collected the samples from an island off the Portuguese coast, and it is thought the gulls might be one explanation for how antibiotic resistance is spread from place to place.
Dr Gilberto Igrejas, from the University of Tras-os-Montes and Alto Douro in Portugal, said: “Migrating birds that fly and travel long distances can act as transporters, or as reservoirs, of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and may consequently have a significant epidemiological role in the dissemination of resistance.”
The scientists identified several strains of enterococcus bacteria in the seagull samples.
Enterococcal bugs often live harmlessly in the human gut but can cause serious infections in vulnerable people, including hospital patients.
Experts fear the bacteria may transfer genes for antibiotic resistance to other microbes such as Staphylococcus aureus, giving rise to more dangerous strains.
The MRSA superbug is a variant of Staphylococcus aureus.
The research is published today in the online journal Proteome Science.
Copyright Press Association 2010