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Effects of concentrated poultry operations and cropland manure application on antibiotic resistant Escherichia coli and nutrient pollution in Chesapeake Bay watersheds


Manure from poultry operations is typically applied to nearby cropland and may affect nutrient loading and the spread of antibiotic resistance (ABR). We analyzed the concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus and the occurrence of ABR in Escherichia coli (E. coli) and extra-intestinal pathogenic E. coli isolates from streams draining 15 small (<19 km2) watersheds of the Chesapeake Bay with contrasting levels of concentrated poultry operations. Total nitrogen and nitrate plus nitrite concentrations increased with poultry barn density with concentrations two and three times higher, respectively, in watersheds with the highest poultry barn densities compared to those without poultry barns. Analysis of N and O isotopes in nitrate by mass spectrometry showed an increase in the proportion of 15N associated with an increase in barn density, suggesting that the nitrate associated with poultry barns originated from manure. Phosphorus concentrations were not correlated with barn density. Antibiotic susceptibility testing of putative E. coli isolates was conducted using the disk diffusion method for twelve clinically important antibiotics. Of the isolates tested, most were completely susceptible (67%); 33% were resistant to at least one antibiotic, 24% were resistant to ampicillin, 13% were resistant to cefazolin, and 8% were multi-drug resistant. Resistance to three cephalosporin drugs was positively associated with an index of manure exposure estimated from poultry barn density and proportion of cropland in a watershed. The proportion of E. coli isolates resistant to cefoxitin, cefazolin, and ceftriaxone, broad-spectrum antibiotics important in human medicine, increased by 18.9%, 16.9%, and 6.2%, respectively, at the highest estimated level of manure exposure compared to watersheds without manure exposure. Our results suggest that comparisons of small watersheds could be used to identify geographic areas where remedial actions may be needed to reduce nutrient pollution and the public health risks of ABR bacteria.

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