Mapping an emerging global health threat

A major research study has shed new light on an antibiotic-resistant bacteria with the potential to cause massive health issues in Australia and overseas.

Dr Jaclyn Pearson

In one of the most comprehensive studies of monophasic Salmonella ever undertaken, researchers established that the world is fast running out of treatment options for this important infectious agent.

Led by Dr Jaclyn Pearson from the Centre for Innate Immunity and Infectious Diseases at Hudson Institute and Professor Deborah Williamson (Doherty Institute, University of Melbourne), the study found that Salmonella is already responsible for more than 150 million cases of gastroenteritis and 57,000 deaths globally each year, and its impact is growing.

Antibiotic resistant

“These bacteria are becoming highly resistant to antibiotics at the same time as gaining the ability to hide from our immune system – a double whammy that could lead to significant spread in humans and livestock,” Dr Pearson said.

“Our work highlights the impact and risk of the over-use of antibiotics and how this can really drive the emergence of dangerous infections.”

In Australia this bacteria has traditionally been known for ‘hitching a ride home’ with many travellers returning from South East Asia, however it is also increasingly present in in Australian livestock used for human consumption, such as pigs and cattle.

Currently no vaccine

“This has major implications in Australia for the spread of disease via food produce,” Dr Pearson said. “There is currently no vaccine for this pathogen and antibiotic use is driving its success.”

She said rather than controlling monophasic Salmonella, antibiotics have actually aided its spread.

“Monophasic Salmonella has responded to the pressure of antibiotic treatment by ‘shape-shifting’, gaining and losing ‘jigsaw-like’ pieces of DNA that allow it to adapt to any new environment it finds itself in.”

This is a significant scientific paper, which characterises an emerging and globally important bacterial pathogen that is highly resistant to multiple antibiotics, and has the potential to pose a serious threat to Australian agriculture and human health.

You can find the paper “Evolutionary dynamics of multidrug resistant Salmonella enterica serovar 4,[5],12:i:- in Australia”, published in the journal Nature Communications.

Collaborators | Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia; The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, Melbourne, VIC, Australia; Monash University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia; The University of Melbourne, VIC, Australia; Department of Microbiology, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Melbourne, VIC, Australia.

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