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Different Sort of Souvenir

Within just days of being abroad, tourists can pick up antibiotic-resistance genes, New Scientist reports.

Researchers led by Petra Wolffs from the Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands obtained daily stool samples and hand swabs from seven people before, during, and after they traveled from the Netherlands to China, India, Canada, South Korea or the Philippines. As Wolffs presented at the American Society for Microbiology, travelers picked up resistance genes as soon as two days after arriving at their destination.

Two Dutch tourists visiting India, for example, acquired the qnrB gene, which confers resistance to quinolone, within two days of arriving there and retained the gene for at least a month after their return. Other Dutch tourists in the study acquired CTX-M genes, which are penicillin-, cephalosporin-, and related antibiotic-resistance genes, at their destinations.

"International travel leads to high acquisition of antibiotic-resistance genes, and we were surprised to see how fast the resistance is acquired," Wolffs said at the meeting, according to New Scientist. "Also, we found that the genes can sometimes be retained for a prolonged period after travelers return home."

The likely source of the resistance genes is food and water tinged with native bacteria, she added.