Leech gut bacteria tells about drug resistance, says study

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Blood sucking creature, Leech
Blood sucking creature, Leech

New Delhi : Ever wondered that the blood sucker ‘Leech’ can actually heal you? Yes, a recent development claims that there are certain leeches which sucks up blood and secrete anticoagulants, aiding tissue growth. These creatures are approved for medical use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help patients heal from reconstructive surgery.

A bacterium found in leeches’ guts needs exposure to only 0.01 micrograms per milliliter of ciprofloxacin to become resistant to that drug, scientists report July 24 in mBio. That’s about 400 times less than the amount of antibiotics thought to trigger drug resistance in this species of bacteria, says study co-author Joerg Graf, a biologist at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.

Sometime in 2000s, researchers observed a small rise in antibiotic-resistant infections in those patients that were caused by the Aeromonas bacteria found in Hirudo verbana, one of several medicinal leech species. Scientists analyzed the contents of leeches’ stomachs using mass spectrometry, and found drug-resistant bacteria as well as low levels of both ciprofloxacin and enrofloxacin, a veterinary antibiotic generally used on poultry farms. The researchers concluded that the leeches may have been exposed to these antibiotics through poultry blood used for food on leech farms.

Graf says that leech farmers remove ciprofloxacin and other antibiotics from their work process. But Aeromonas is also found in freshwater environments. “It is concerning because similarly low amounts [of antibiotics] have been detected in the environment,” he says.

However, it is yet not clear if Aeromonas alone has this lower drug resistance entry, or if other bacteria can also become resistant at a lower porch. If more bacteria are found then it could possibly complicate the whole global efforts to stop drug-resistant infections.