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Citizen Science in Backyard Poultry Study

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global issue that threatens the health of humans and animals alike; AMR arises when microbes, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites, no longer respond to antimicrobial agents. Of particular concern for human and animal health is when bacteria acquire the ability to resist the effects of antibiotic drugs, a process driven by an array of factors including in response to antibiotic use. When bacteria become resistant to one or more antibiotics, it reduces the options available for physicians and veterinarians to effectively treat bacterial diseases in their human and animal patients. While the formation of AMR can be due to the ever-evolving nature of bacteria, the use of antibiotics is unfortunately a well-known contributor to the rapid selection of resistant bacteria. This can happen whenever antibiotics are used, so it is important to only use antibiotics in poultry when they are appropriate, necessary, and under the guidance of a veterinarian. Ownership of backyard poultry (BYP) is increasing in popularity across California, yet little is known about AMR associated with these flocks and the practices that BYP owners employ in caring for their birds that may impact AMR. To address these issues, a citizen science-based study was developed to better understand AMR in backyard poultry.?

Because little is known about BYP owners’ practices associated with antibiotics, a Google Form-based survey was conducted in Spring of 2018, with a focus on two groups: BYP owners that had used antibiotics within the last year and BYP owners who had never used antibiotics. The study had two major parts:

  • A survey of backyard owners to better understand their practices
  • Sample collection from poultry, which was conducted by participating BYP owners in California (citizen science!), to examine patterns in AMR 

The following is a summary of the results, some of which are currently being written up into more detailed, peer-reviewed scientific articles:

  • A total of 162 responses were received across 34 California counties, with the majority of BYP owners reporting 10 or fewer birds.
  • Results of the survey suggest that BYP owners do use antibiotics (12% of respondents confirmed use), including to treat abscesses, crusty ears, runny noses, injuries from an animal attack, and impacted/sour crops.
  • Only 20% contacted a veterinarian when a sick bird was identified.
  • The results of the samples collected by owners and sent to UC Davis for analysis suggest that patterns of AMR in backyard poultry are similar to resistance patterns in commercial poultry.
  • No major differences were found between AMR in BYP that had a history of antibiotic use versus AMR in BYP that had no history of antibiotic use. This is consistent with some previous studies in commercial food animals including poultry.

In summary, antimicrobial resistance is present in backyard poultry, often at rates comparable to that of commercial poultry. While none of the Salmonella isolates in this study displayed elevated levels of resistance, the ability of these bacteria to acquire a wide variety of AMR genes is well documented. Additionally, while the use of antibiotics was not identified as a major predictor of AMR in backyard poultry, there is a strong body of scientific evidence that supports the connection between the use and misuse of antibiotics and the increased prevalence of AMR. Hence from a poultry health and public health perspective, it is essential to continue to be diligent in reducing the presence of bacteria that can harm us and our poultry through judicious use of antibiotics under the oversight of a veterinarian, good husbandry, and biosecurity practices.

If you have questions about the project itself, please contact Dr. Maurice Pitesky at mepitesky@ucdavis.edu

For more information regarding Antimicrobial Use and Stewardship (AUS), visit the CDFA website at https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/AHFSS/aus/. For more tips regarding good biosecurity practices, also feel free to visit CAHEN's resources online.

Funding for this project was provided by the Antimicrobial Use and Stewardship (AUS) branch of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

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