New Bacteria Species Found in Snake Poop Resists 35 Types of Antibiotics, Could Spread to Humans

Indian researchers say they have isolated two new species of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from the scat, or fecal matter, of a vine snake, a mildly venomous reptile found throughout South and Southeast Asia, according to a March 14 article in the scientific journal Antonie van Leeuwenhoek.

The new species are resistant to at least 35 different antibiotics, according to India Today. If they prove capable of making the jump from herps to human beings, they could complicate medical care in a myriad of ways.

India is among the countries most frequently and severely affected by snakebite, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Between 2000 and 2019, 1.2 million residents of the country died as a result of envenomation, most of them under the age of 15 or between 30 and 69.

While India is home to more than 60 types of venomous snake, kraits, cobras and Russell's vipers are responsible for the vast majority of annual fatalities, according to the WHO. One puncture by their fangs can inject a cocktail of toxins that wreaks havoc on various organs and organ systems.

"In some serious cases, patients may suffer from cellulitis, tissues necrosis, finger or toe gangrene, and/or extensive necrotizing fasciitis. To avoid such type of infections, antibiotic therapy is the only way. However, these newly-isolated bacteria are resistant to antibiotic drugs, which is a cause of serious concern," one of the researchers, Yogesh Shouche of the National Center for Cell Science, said, according to India Today.

The new results have sobering implications for the treatment of not only snakebite but also infectious diseases, another researcher, Ravindra Chaudhari, said.

"The bacteria reported here comes under family Planococcaceae, and some species of this family are pathogenic," meaning "causing or capable of causing disease," he said.

As a result, the bacteria may very well pose a major threat to human health and well-being. In fact, Chaudhari said, scientists have begun to theorize that Chinese snakes could be indirectly responsible for the coronavirus pandemic.

"Recently, it has been observed that the Chinese krait and the Chinese cobra may be the original source of coronavirus that has triggered an outbreak of a deadly infectious respiratory illness," he said. "When the researchers performed a more detailed bioinformatics analysis of the sequence of 2019-nCoV, it suggests that this coronavirus might have come from snakes."

The Planococcus bacteria, Chaudhari said, can be transmitted through contact with infected water or air. It has been known to cause outbreaks of necrotic hepatitis in chickens, according to India Today.

Sri Lankan boy stares at vine snake.
A Sri Lankan boy stares at a vine snake. Two new species of antibiotic-resistant bacteria were recently discovered by Indian researchers in the fecal matter of a vine snake. ISHARA S.KODIKARA/Getty Images