High prevalence of beta-lactam-resistant Escherichia coli in South Australian grey-headed flying fox pups (Pteropus poliocephalus)

Fiona McDougall*, Wayne Boardman, Michelle Power*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
49 Downloads (Pure)


The emergence of antimicrobial-resistant Escherichia coli in wildlife is concerning—especially resistance to clinically important beta-lactam antibiotics. Wildlife in closer proximity to humans, including in captivity and in rescue/rehabilitation centres, typically have a higher prevalence of antimicrobial-resistant E. coli compared to their free-living counterparts. Each year, several thousand Australian fruit bat pups, including the grey-headed flying fox (GHFF; Pteropus poliocephalus), require rescuing and are taken into care by wildlife rescue and rehabilitation groups. To determine the prevalence of beta-lactam-resistant E. coli in rescued GHFF pups from South Australia, faecal samples were collected from 53 pups in care. A combination of selective culture, PCR, antimicrobial susceptibility testing, whole-genome sequencing, and phylogenetic analysis was used to identify and genetically characterise beta-lactam-resistant E. coli isolates. The prevalence of amoxicillin-, amoxicillin-plus-clavulanic-acid-, and cephalosporin-resistant E. coli in the 53 pups was 77.4% (n = 41), 24.5% (n = 13), and 11.3% (n = 6), respectively. GHFF beta-lactam-resistant E. coli also carried resistance genes to aminoglycosides, trimethoprim plus sulphonamide, and tetracyclines in 37.7% (n = 20), 35.8% (n = 19), and 26.4% (n = 14) of the 53 GHFF pups, respectively, and 50.9% (n = 27) of pups carried multidrug-resistant E. coli. Twelve E. coli strain types were identified from the 53 pups, with six strains having extraintestinal pathogenic traits, indicating that they have the potential to cause blood, lung, or wound infections in GHFFs. Two lineages—E. coli ST963 and ST58 O8:H25—were associated with human extraintestinal infections. Phylogenetic analyses determined that all 12 strains were lineages associated with humans and/or domestic animals. This study demonstrates high transmission of anthropogenic-associated beta-lactam-resistant E. coli to GHFF pups entering care. Importantly, we identified potential health risks to GHFF pups and zoonotic risks for their carers, highlighting the need for improved antibiotic stewardship and biosafety measures for GHFF pups entering care.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1589
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
Issue number8
Early online date7 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2022. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • antimicrobial resistance
  • bats
  • zoonoses
  • one health
  • bacterial pathogens
  • wildlife rehabilitation
  • antimicrobial stewardship


Dive into the research topics of 'High prevalence of beta-lactam-resistant Escherichia coli in South Australian grey-headed flying fox pups (Pteropus poliocephalus)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this