Ants as (Possible) Vectors of Bacteria in Hospital Environments

Not really sure what to think about this article:  Ants as Vectors of Bacteria in Hospital Environments. Published in the Journal of Microbiology Research and authored by Bruna Rafaela Machado Oliveira, Luciano Ferreira de Sousa, Raquel Chalá Soares, Thiago César Nascimento, Marcelo Silva Madureira, Jorge Luiz Fortuna.

In a quick scan the science seems reasonable.  They collected ants, cultured microbes from them, screened the microbes for various resistances, and then analyzed the data.  And some of bacteria were identified as closely related to known pathogens

So that is certainly something to be aware of.  I am just not sure what the implications of this finding are.  Fortunately, the authors are at least somewhat cautious in their conclusions

The results show that the ants captured are possibly working as carriers of pathogenic bacteria. Transmission may take place directly, when ants crawl up a patient’s skin, or indirectly, when they run on medical devices. Besides the fact that these ants carry a significant number of clinically important bacteria in hospital settings, another relevant finding was the resistance to selected antimicrobials, which increases the risk of HAIs, especially in ICU inpatients who, in most cases, are immunodepleted.

The great importance of bacteria carried by ants in hospital environments lies in the resistance to antimicrobials they develop, highlighting the need for increased awareness in healthcare organizations as to the adoption of strict prevention measures. Such initiatives may be as simple as washing hands properly and as complex as devising sensible courses of antimicrobials to inpatients or conceiving efficient pest control programmes.

Despite the confirmation that ants carry microorganisms, our results have not afforded to clarify the precise role these insects have in HAIs. Further studies should be conducted to assess the risk of infection in hospital settings potentially colonized by ants.

So – don’t go out to kill at the ants everywhere based on this article.  But certainly it is worth keeping in mind that organisms other than humans may be involved in spreading microbes around in a hospital environment.


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Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. My lab is in the UC Davis Genome Center and I hold appointments in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology in the School of Medicine and the Department of Evolution and Ecology in the College of Biological Sciences. My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis (see my lab site here which has more information on lab activities).  In addition to research, I am heavily involved in the Open Access publishing and Open Science movements.