Dog-test call to stop superbugs at border

HEALTHY HOUND: Owner Josephine Brien and dog Cosmo don’t have to worry about untreatable ‘‘superbugs’’ in New Zealand yet, but they could be on their way. 
HEALTHY HOUND: Owner Josephine Brien and dog Cosmo don’t have to worry about untreatable ‘‘superbugs’’ in New Zealand yet, but they could be on their way. 

Pooches as well as people are facing a world without antibiotics - and it's time to stop letting infected animals into the country, a vet says.

Veterinary Council member Allan Bell says New Zealand is lucky to have so far escaped a particularly concerning strain of antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria. The untreatable bugs are spreading across Australia, with the likely origin the US, he says.

With the possibilities such bacteria can be passed from pets to their owners, it's time to stop infected dogs entering the country, Bell says.

As dogs socialise and play very closely the resistant bacteria easily transfer from one pet to another. "Gradually, there are more and more carriers."

When a dog gets sick, this bacteria can then turn into a full-blown and untreatable infection.

Bell has called for the Ministry for Primary Industries to ban all dogs carrying resistant staph bugs from entering New Zealand. A simple and cheap swab of the pet could easily determine which dogs can and cannot enter - protecting Kiwi dogs, he says.

An MPI spokesperson says the strain is not considered a public health risk. No other country had introduced bans for the bacteria, and World Trade Organisation rules meant restrictions must conform to scientific principles and international standards, the spokesperson says.

But Bell says it is likely, once here, dogs could pass the resistant strain to people, through licking or biting.

Massey University scientist Nigel French is researching how antibiotic-resistant bacteria can jump from pets to people. While Bell's concern is staph bacteria, French's team is researching another resistant type in dogs, known as ESBL, often seen in people as urinary tract infections. "But these infections could go either way."

French says there is not enough information available on antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria to tell if it is a big enough risk to pets to justify a ban.

"It's a difficult one - in terms of general biosecurity, it's good to try and keep out potentially harmful bugs to both animals and people. But it would have to be something that would be of major concern to warrant that type of screening."

Pet owner Josephine Brien, of Aro Valley, says a ban is for the best, despite how it could affect immigrating pet owners.

"It is worrisome. And one of the great things about New Zealand is we are an island and we can contain these things."



People worldwide face the health conditions of a pre-antibiotic world, where common infections and minor injuries prove deadly.

Resistance to all forms of antibiotics is rising, and several bacterial "superbug" strains, including one found in Wellington teacher Brian Pool last year, are unaffected by even the toughest, last resort treatments.

While New Zealand had escaped any cases of these superbugs until Pool was discovered with one, experts believe it is inevitable more of these antibiotic-resistant bacteria will surface.

Incorrect and inappropriate use of the drugs, plus its place in the agriculture sector, have been flagged as accelerating the bugs' developing resistance, in both people and animals.

The development of new antibiotics is also a difficult and expensive process.

Out of the millions of bacteria in a colony, a few have natural resistance to antibiotics.

When they encounter these drugs, the few survive and reproduce, passing on their resistant genes.

The Dominion Post