Superbugs can infect you through plants too: study

Scientists fed infected lettuce to mice and found that superbugs could stay inside them without being detected

By Meenakshi Sushma
Published: Monday 24 June 2019
E-coli. Photo: Getty Images
E-coli. Photo: Getty Images E-coli. Photo: Getty Images

Anti-microbial resistant bacteria or superbugs can be transmitted to humans through plants, a new study in the United States has found out.

Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California experimented on mice and used a method called the lettuce–mouse model to reach this conclusion.

In this model, the scientists grew lettuce in the laboratory and exposed it to superbug E-coli. This lettuce was then fed to mice and the faecal samples were collected and tested at frequent intervals. The test results proved that the bugs stayed in the intestine without showing any signs of their existence.

They also started forming colonies. Even when they were excreted, they caused urinary infections.

This is different from the infections resulting due to ingesting plant food which has worm eggs (like cabbage and broccoli). Those infections lead to diarrhoea or vomiting, which are caused due to pathogens present in plants.

The researchers also created two scenarios during the study: one was feeding antibiotics and the other was feeding antacids to the mice before feeding them the infected lettuce.

In the first scenario, they found that the superbug colonies became more stable when two types of antibiotics were taken to treat the infection. In the second scenario, when an antacid was given before ingesting the food, it made a difference but this has not been revealed yet.

“We mimicked antibiotic and antacid treatments, as both could affect the ability of superbugs to survive the passage from the stomach to the intestines,” Marlène Maeusli, lead author of the study and PhD candidate at the Keck School, said.

Prior to the study, superbugs were thought to be transmitted to humans only through meat, Maeusli told the media.

Similarly, researchers in India recently found 207 healthy human beings to be carrying colonies of super bugs in their intestines.

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