A new study has come out saying that humans might be inhaling bacterial DNA, which means that superbugs are likely being transmitted through the air. Over 2 millions Americans each year are infected with superbugs, which are bacterial infections that are resistant to antibiotics. Sometimes these superbugs can be deadly to humans, especially to people who already have weak immune systems and cannot fight off the infections through the normal body response. Although we already know about superbugs and the resistance that comes with that, what we did not know is that these superbugs can be transferred from one person to another through the air.
Researcher Phil Smith started looking at livestock, which are where 80 percent of the antibiotics in this country go. Smith then began taking various samples of the dust that would go up and down the cattle feed yard, meaning in a downwind and upwind direction. Smith had his colleague, Greg Mayer, help collect the dust particles using a vacuuming process, which meant he would walk up and down the cattle feed yards for a period of time to collect enough samples to use in the study. When you look at the various dust particles found on the cattle feed yard, it is interesting to note that a lot of those particles came from dried cattle feces.
The researchers then began looking at the samples of dust particles and analyzing the various genetic sequences involved, which is basically like looking at dust particle DNA. What the researchers found was that the resistant genetic sequences were over 4,000 percent higher in the downwind direction. This means that when you are breathing in the air, you are also breathing in the dust particles of the resistant genetic sequences. The study samples were taken about 200 miles away from Lubbock, Texas. It is estimated that between Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Colorado there is about 46,000 pounds each day of these dust particles that are capable of being inhaled by humans.
While this study does seem to indicate that there is a chance the antibiotic-resistant particles can be inhaled by humans, there is a lot of concern about whether or not such a thing could even happen. Some veterinarians question the study due to the fact that a lot of the antibiotics given to cows and other livestock are not meant for humans. The veterinarians claim that humans cannot be impacted by the antibiotics because they are for animals, thus have no effect on humans, even if the particles are inhaled.
The study does raise an interesting question though, because scientists and doctors are seeing more cases of superbugs infecting humans, and more viruses are becoming antibiotic-resistant. While Smith’s study might not be a large study or study multiple cities, some researchers agree with the conclusion that these antibiotic-resistant particles moving through the air do pose a real risk to humans if inhaled. More research will be needed to study whether or not the antibiotics that livestock receive can in fact be transferred to humans or impact the human body.