…Macaroni penguins, that is. There is a report in a recent edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases about isolation of Campylobacter jejuni from Macaroni penguins in Antarctica. Campylobacter is a bacterium that can cause diarrhea in people and animals, and which can also be found in the intestinal tracts of a wide variety of animal species, even when they’re healthy. Researchers typed the Campylobacter isolates from a group of penguins in Antarctica and found that many were a strain that commonly affects people. They had a few different ideas about how the penguins became infected. One possibility is contamination from toilet wastes that a nearby research station dumped into the surrounding water. They thought that ships discharging sewage into the ocean near the penguins’ feeding grounds could also be a source of the bacteria, as could migratory birds like albatrosses that spend part of the year closer to people. Whatever way it got there, a penguin colony provides an exceptional opportunity for Campylobacter to spread, since huge numbers of penguins live in very close proximity to each other. Fortunately, Campylobacter rarely causes disease in birds, and we hope that’s true with this strain in penguins as well.

This report shows how closely linked humans and animals can be, even when we usually live far apart. It also shows why we keep saying that a global ecological approach to infectious diseases is needed – we need to look at the big picture.

More information about Campylobacter can be found on the Worms & Germs Resources page.