A researcher at the University of Iowa has found an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria in three wild animals in the state. Epidemiologist, Tara Smith, studied animals brought into the Iowa State University Wildlife Care Clinic and found the bacteria strain known as MRSA in two rabbits and a bird.

“There’ve been a few other studies looking at MRSA in wildlife, but they’ve been mostly related to case reports where an animal has been sick — like there was some outbreaks in dolphins previously — so this is the first one to really look at a cross section of animals, all different types of animal species in one geographic area,” Smith says.

The bacteria can be deadly to humans because of the problems fighting it. “It’s long been a problem in hospitals, since about the 1960s,” Smith explains. “And in the 1990s some new strains appeared that do cause infections in the community in people who do not have any hospital contact. And then in the last 10 years, the newest strain has been these livestock associate strains, the ones we’re finding in swine and swine workers.”

While Smith’s study has found the strain in wild animals in the midwest for the first time, she says it’s not something that needs to cause a lot of alarm. “I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s something to be worried about, besides you know people who would have very close contact with such animals — people who are out hunting them and dressing them and things like that,” she says. “For us it was just more of a curiosity.”

Smith wants to expand on the research. “We’d like to do kind of a more prescribe study so we know where the animals came from, where they were when they were captured, things like that. But we don’t have any funding for that right now, unfortunately,”Smith says.

Smith works in the U-I College of Public Health, and says you should always use good hygiene practices when handling  animals

“Certainly anytime after you play with any kind of animals or touch any kind of animals — even your pets — you should wash your hands before going onto to doing anything else,” Smith says.

She says avoid touching animals if you have cuts or wounds of some type on your hands or have some type of disease where your immune system may be compromised. You can read more about Smith’s study in the journal “Science.”