Objectives: To determine the level of antimicrobial resistance and the occurrence of class 1, 2 and 3 integrons in faecal Escherichia coli from several animal populations variously exposed to human contact.
Methods: A collection of 341 faecal E. coli isolates was constituted from several animal populations subject to various degrees of exposure to humans: 18 animals never exposed to humans (living in the Antarctic or Gabon), 71 wild animals living in a low human density area (mountainous region of the Pyrenees, France), 61 wild animals living in a higher human density area (Fontainebleau forest near Paris, France), and 128 extensively reared farm animals and 42 pet dogs, both living in the Pyrenees. Resistance to antimicrobial agents was determined by the method of disc diffusion and quantified using the resistance score of BE Murray, JJ Mathewson, HL DuPont, CD Ericsson and RR Reves (Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy 1990; 34: 515-18). Integrons were characterized by triplex real-time PCR and sequencing. The absence of epidemiologic clones was confirmed by PCR-based methods.
Results: A gradient of resistance ranging from absence to high prevalence (resistance score of 18.7%) and a gradual increase in the prevalence of class 1 integrons (from 0% to 16%), both correlated with the increase in exposure to humans, were observed. In wild animals with little contact with humans, resistance, when present, was not mediated by integrons.
Conclusions: Our findings firmly establish that the current prevalence of antimicrobial resistance found in animal faecal bacteria, as well as the prevalence of integrons, is clearly anthropogenic. The presence of integrons may constitute an adaptive process to environments whose antimicrobial pressure exceeds a certain threshold.