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SOURCE: Science Magazine

DATE: December 13, 2018

SNIP: You can give your cat the flu. You can also pass pneumonia to a chimpanzee or tuberculosis to a bird. This kind of human-to-animal disease transmission, known as reverse zoonosis, has been seen on every continent except one: Antarctica. Now, human-linked pathogens in bird poop reveal, for the first time, that even animals on this isolated, ice-bound landmass can pick up a bug from tourists or visiting scientists. This newly identified infection route could have devastating consequences for Antarctic bird colonies, including population collapse and even extinction.

From fecal samples, scientists isolated and identified bacterial species and compared them to strains in humans and domestic animals. DNA from Campylobacter jejuni, which causes food poisoning, was a close match for such strains, suggesting humans may be passing their bacteria on to local seabirds, the researchers report online in Science of the Total Environment. The presence of certain strains of Salmonella and an antimicrobial-resistant type of another gastrointestinal bug, C. lari, which was found in all four locations, supports that conclusion.

“We often think of polar environments as being too cold and that disease transmission is not a huge threat, but the authors have clear evidence that … bacteria can spread widely in polar environments.” Jacob González-Solís, an environmental and evolutionary biologist from the University of Barcelona, predicts that, even though Salmonella and Campylobacter don’t kill most infected wildlife, the pathogens could have “devastating” consequences to Antarctic bird colonies, because this is the first time most birds there have been exposed to these strains.