Gulls may be transporting antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Researchers in Portugal fear that migratory birds may be spreading infections after it was discovered that seagulls can carry an antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The researchers analyzed approximately 60 samples of droppings from the yellow-legged Caspian Gull, the BBC reports. Researchers found that one in 10 of the samples harbored a bacteria that is resistant to a common antibiotic known as vancomycin.

The researchers told the BBC they think the birds probably pick up the infection from eating scraps in human garbage. The gulls are common in many southern parts of the United Kingdom

Lead scientist Gilberto Igrejas of the University of Tras-os-Montes and Alto Douro told the BBC that the scientists collected and inspected the bird dropping samples from an island off the Portuguese coast.

“We used a novel technique called proteomics to detect the maximum number of bacterial proteins which are thought to be connected in some, as yet unknown, way to antibiotic resistance,” Igrejas told the BBC.

Igrejas said the team identified several strains of enterococcus bacteria in the samples, some of which were resistant to vancomycin. Igrejas said he believes wild migratory birds may be spreading antibiotic resistance from place to place and to other animals and humans through their droppings.

“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,” Igrejas told the BBC.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are generally harmless to healthy people. They can, however, cause serious infections in the weak and vulnerable.

Officials with the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told the BBC they would be studying the findings of the recent study with interest.