Why letting your dog lick your face might render antibiotics useless

Letting your dog lick your face risks spreading antibiotic resistance, a study has found.

People should also avoid kissing their pet, not let them eat food off their plate and wash their hands after stroking them or picking up their waste, said experts.

Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest problems facing humanity, as pathogens targeted by common drugs evolve to become impervious and thus more dangerous.

A Lancet study published earlier this year found that more than a million people died from so-called superbugs in 2019.

Overprescription and misuse has been cited as a major issue in the Western world, but there is increasing concern that domestic pets may also act as a reservoir of disease.

Researchers from the Royal Veterinary College and the University of Lisbon took stool samples once a month for four months from 114 healthy people, 85 dogs and 18 cats.

Genetic analysis revealed any signs of antibiotic resistant bacteria, or genes from said microorganisms.

Fifteen pets and 15 humans were found to be carrying a bacteria of concern. Half of the infected pets had an antibiotic-resistant strain, as did a third of the people, which had evolved resilience against penicillin and other treatments.

The findings, presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Lisbon, also showed that pets and owners share bugs with one another.

‘One of the biggest threats to public health’

Dr Juliana Menezes, study lead author from the University of Lisbon, said: “Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, antibiotic resistance was one of the biggest threats to public health because it can make conditions like pneumonia, sepsis, urinary tract and wound infections untreatable.

“Although the level of sharing from the households we have studied is low, healthy carriers can shed bacteria into their environment for months, and they can be a source of infection for other more vulnerable people and animals such as the elderly and pregnant women.

“Previous studies have linked the close contact factors between pets and their owners to the sharing of bacteria (whether resistant or not).

“These risk factors include kissing, licking the owner’s face or eating from the owner’s plate. To reduce the spread of these bacteria within the household, it would be necessary to reduce this close relationship between the owners and their pets, and also to have greater hygiene practices.

“Bearing in mind that the bacteria we studied are found colonizing the gastrointestinal tract, the transmission occurs via the faecal-oral route, so good hygiene practices on the part of owners would help to reduce sharing, such as washing hands after collecting dog waste, or even after petting them.”

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