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Drug-Resistant Bacteria Common at Horse Farms, Study Shows

Drug-Resistant Bacteria Common at Horse Farms, Study Shows
Christa Lesté
Your barn might be cleaner than your house, but chances are there’s probably still some potentially disease-causing bacteria floating around—maybe even on your horse, researchers have learned. Worse, the bacteria might be drug-resistant.
Scientists found 200 different strains of Escherichia coli in manure, air, and horse nostrils in three Polish riding centers. They found most of those strains at the center where the horses spent the most time in box stalls, and, not surprisingly, the horses residing in stalls also harbored the largest number of strains in their nostrils, said Katarzyna Wolny-Koładka, PhD, of the University of Agriculture’s Department of Microbiology, in Cracow, Poland.
“Due to the fact that horses have contact with manure and feces through their bedding, they are exposed to E. coli in their box stalls,” Wolny-Koładka said.
E. coli lives primarily in fresh feces, but they can get into the air through dust, she said.
About half of all the E. coli strains found on these three farms were resistant to at least one microbial agent—primarily ampicillin, ticarcillin, aztreonam, ceftazidime, cefalotin, and tetracycline, said Wolny-Koładka. However, none of the strains were resistant to cefotaxime, cefazolin, ciprofloxacin, netilmicin, or piperacillin/tazobactam.
Antibiotic resistance isn’t a problem unique to horse farms. “Horses can be carriers of bacteria, just like any other animal or human can be,” she said. “They can be carriers without being sick themselves, and the bacteria they carry can be pathogenic and drug-resistant.”
And, likewise, the risk of illness from resistant bacteria isn’t only an equine issue. Humans can pick up the bacteria and transfer it elsewhere, potentially contributing to a public health problem in general.
The good news is that the presence of pathogenic bacteria like E. coli doesn’t always mean a human or animal will develop clinical disease. “Disease symptoms appear only when, for example, the immunity of horses (or other animals or humans) falls under the influence of poor living conditions, malnutrition, comorbidities, or viruses,” Wolny-Koładka said.
Nonetheless, equestrians should take steps to reduce the likelihood of their horses and themselves picking up bacteria.
Ideally, horses should be kept in open pastures with fresh air, which is a poor host for E. coli, said Wolny-Koładka.
Further, she recommended owners “always observe the basic principles of health and safety and hygiene, related to disinfection, and washing hands, equipment, harnesses, and waterers, and replacing dirty bedding with clean bedding, and washing and brushing horses and their care products.
“It is also obvious that people need to take care of their horses’ well-being and health, and when the need arises, administer appropriate medicines including antibiotics under the supervision of a veterinarian,” she said.
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