Oregon Science: Study Warns of Antibiotic-Resistant Pet Aquarium Fish
(Newport, Oregon) - For those with pet fish in their home aquariums, a study by scientists from the Oregon coast may not be good news. Fish that are resistant to antibiotics are being found by researchers in growing numbers, meaning fish diseases will be harder to treat – and this could mean humans themselves may be exposed to more harmful bacteria that cannot be treated.
Researchers from Oregon State University and Newport's Hatfield Marine Science Center conducted the study, and did conclude the risk to humans is likely minor unless they frequently work with fish or have compromised immune systems. More serious is the risk to this industry, which has grown significantly in recent years, and is now a $900 million annual business in the United States.
Treating fish diseases with antibiotics is not very precisely regulated.
“We expected to find some antibiotic resistance, but it was surprising to find such high levels, including resistance in some cases where the antibiotic is rarely used,” said Tim Miller-Morgan, a veterinary aquatics specialist with Oregon State University. “We appear to already have set ourselves up for some pretty serious problems within the industry.”
Findings of the study were reported in the Journal of Fish Diseases, which looked at 32 freshwater fish of various species, all tested for resistance to nine different antibiotics. Some resistance was found to every antibiotic. The highest level of resistance, 77 percent, was found with the common antibiotic tetracycline.
The fish were tested in Portland, Ore., after being transported from Colombia, Singapore and Florida.
The bacterial infections found in the fish included Aeromonas, Pseudomonas, Staphylococcus and others, several of which can infect both fish and humans. The Oregon researchers said the range of resistance was quite disturbing.
There have been documented cases of disease transmission from fish to humans, Miller-Morgan said, but it’s not common. It would be a particular concern for anyone with a weak or compromised immune system, he pointed out, and people with such health issues should discuss tropical fish management with their physician. Workers who constantly handle tropical fish may also face a higher level of risk.
More information is available from the World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Fish Veterinarians. A database of aquatic veterinarians is available online, at http://aquavetmed.info
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