In the same edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases as a report on Campylobacter jejuni in macaroni penguins in Antarctica, there is a report about vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) in glaucous gulls in Point Barrow, a remote area of Alaska.
Vancomycin-resistant enterococci are an important problem in human medicine, mainly in hospitals where they can cause sporadic infections and outbreaks of infection. These infections can be difficult to treat because VRE is resistant to many antibiotics, including vancomycin. VRE is not very common in animals in North America at this time, but there is concern that it could be an emerging problem, because as VRE rates in people increase the bacterium gets spread more commonly to animals. There have been many more reports of VRE in animals in Europe. This has been largely attributed to the widespread use of avoparcin (a drug related to vancomycin) as a growth promoter in food animals in Europe, a practice that was common until the mid 1990s, but is now banned in many countries.
This study demonstrates that organisms like VRE can be spread to wildlife in one of the most remote regions of North America. As the authors state "This spread suggests that few (if any) places on earth may be protected against the spread of such resistance, and the dispersal mechanisms are far more efficient than previously thought."
These two reports show how well (and expectedly) infectious agents can travel. They are also good examples of why we need to be thinking globally, ecologically and truly in the mindset of “one medicine” if we really want to understand infectious diseases.