Press Release

Antibacterial Resistance Found in Non-Disease-Causing Bacteria,
Could Serve as an Early Warning of Drug Resistance

BOSTON – September 13, 2010 – The Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics (APUA) today reported that an international surveillance system it established to track antibacterial resistance has found moderate to high frequencies of drug resistance in non-disease causing bacteria (commensals) of animals and environmental sources at diverse sites across the globe.

The findings, announced at the annual Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, mean that non-disease causing bacteria can serve as an early warning of antibiotic resistance in bacteria associated with disease in human populations, according to APUA.

“Knowledge about the antibacterial resistance arena is expanding greatly. Our findings mean that disease-causing bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics by interacting with commensals bearing resistance and not necessarily just with antibiotics,” said APUA President Stuart B. Levy.

The analysis was based on the first multi-year, systematic study to evaluate patterns of antibacterial resistance in non-disease carrying—or commensal—bacteria across diverse, global geographic sites. Drug resistance was found in commensal bacteria in Bangladesh, Georgia, India, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, Uganda, and Vietnam. These data support pilot studies in the American and European continents which show resistance in non-disease-causing bacteria.

In 2009, the U.S. formulated a national strategy to counter biological threats, in part, by building international capacity to collect and detect infectious diseases threats worldwide. Since then, APUA, with the support of several private and governmental partners, has been working to establish an extensive international surveillance system to better understand the sources of the threat of antibiotic resistant organisms and potential interventions.

Rep. Stephen Lynch, of Massachusetts, vigorously endorsed APUA’s efforts, noting, “By tracking antibiotic resistance on a global scale, APUA is helping our nation monitor disease-resistant superbugs outside our borders to minimize the threat of dangerous, drug resistant bacteria to national and global security. The APUA is tackling one of those mounting global threats that for many governments remains below the radar screen at our collective peril.”

The new study was based on surveillance of commensal bacteria from a wide variety of animals, plants, water, and soils. Examination of more than 1000 isolates has identified substantial frequencies of resistance, with significant frequencies of multi-drug resistance and varying patterns of particular antibiotic resistance markers from geographically diverse environmental sites.

Commensal bacteria help keep humans healthy by helping to digest foods and acquire nutrients such as vitamins B and K, encouraging the immune system to develop, and preventing the colonization of bacterial pathogens that cause disease. Antibiotic resistance most often arises from the interaction of microorganisms with antibiotic substances, frequently through the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in humans, animals, and agriculture.

About APUA

APUA, the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics (, founded in 1981,is the leading, independent non-governmental organization with an extensive international field network dedicated to preserving the power of existing antibiotics and increasing access to needed agents. APUA conducts a multidisciplinary research program to provide evidence to inform and shape public policy. With chapters in over 60 countries, APUA works to improve antibiotic access and use with the goal of ensuring effective infectious disease treatments for generations to come.



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