Exchange of Carbapenem-Resistant Escherichia coli Sequence Type 38 Intercontinentally and among Wild Bird, Human, and Environmental Niches

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2023 May 17;e0031923. doi: 10.1128/aem.00319-23. Online ahead of print.


Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) are a global threat to human health and are increasingly being isolated from nonclinical settings. OXA-48-producing Escherichia coli sequence type 38 (ST38) is the most frequently reported CRE type in wild birds and has been detected in gulls or storks in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. The epidemiology and evolution of CRE in wildlife and human niches, however, remains unclear. We compared wild bird origin E. coli ST38 genome sequences generated by our research group and publicly available genomic data derived from other hosts and environments to (i) understand the frequency of intercontinental dispersal of E. coli ST38 clones isolated from wild birds, (ii) more thoroughly measure the genomic relatedness of carbapenem-resistant isolates from gulls sampled in Turkey and Alaska, USA, using long-read whole-genome sequencing and assess the spatial dissemination of this clone among different hosts, and (iii) determine whether ST38 isolates from humans, environmental water, and wild birds have different core or accessory genomes (e.g., antimicrobial resistance genes, virulence genes, plasmids) which might elucidate bacterial or gene exchange among niches. Our results suggest that E. coli ST38 strains, including those resistant to carbapenems, are exchanged between humans and wild birds, rather than separately maintained populations within each niche. Furthermore, despite close genetic similarity among OXA-48-producing E. coli ST38 clones from gulls in Alaska and Turkey, intercontinental dispersal of ST38 clones among wild birds is uncommon. Interventions to mitigate the dissemination of antimicrobial resistance throughout the environment (e.g., as exemplified by the acquisition of carbapenem resistance by birds) may be warranted. IMPORTANCE Carbapenem-resistant bacteria are a threat to public health globally and have been found in the environment as well as the clinic. Some bacterial clones are associated with carbapenem resistance genes, such as Escherichia coli sequence type 38 (ST38) and the carbapenemase gene blaOXA-48. This is the most frequently reported carbapenem-resistant clone in wild birds, though it was unclear if it circulated within wild bird populations or was exchanged among other niches. The results from this study suggest that E. coli ST38 strains, including those resistant to carbapenems, are frequently exchanged among wild birds, humans, and the environment. Carbapenem-resistant E. coli ST38 clones in wild birds are likely acquired from the local environment and do not constitute an independent dissemination pathway within wild bird populations. Management actions aimed at preventing the environmental dissemination and acquisition of antimicrobial resistance by wild birds may be warranted.

Keywords: OXA-48; One Health; antimicrobial resistance; whole-genome sequencing; wildlife.