Scientists at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have identified the human sore throat pathogen in a wild hedgehog.
Identified as strain emm 28, the bacterium can cause both superficial and invasive infections in humans and is similar to other strains of S pyogenes.
It is the first time S pyogenes has been found in a hedgehog, and in any free-living wild animal, as confirmed by gene sequencing.
The bacterium was determined to be the cause of death in the hedgehog, having likely entered the body via a tooth root abscess before spreading to other tissues.
The paper, published in EcoHealth, hypothesises the case may have resulted from the transfer of infection from human to hedgehog via anthroponotic infection – a human disease that has been transferred to other animals – or reverse zoonosis.
It is thought the opportunities for direct and indirect contact between wild hedgehogs and humans could be a possible explanation for this unexpected finding.
Author Lydia Franklinos, a wildlife veterinarian at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology, said: “While it is more common to hear about zoonotic diseases originating from wildlife, we rarely encounter disease transferring from human to animal, as appears to be the case here.
“While this is an isolated case, we need to be vigilant and continue to monitor the threat to wildlife from humans and our activities.
“The hedgehog is in decline in the UK and I would encourage further research on the pathogens of hedgehogs to better understand disease threats to the species to help conservation efforts,” she added.
The postmortem was carried out as part of Garden Wildlife Health, a project that aims to monitor the health of, and identify disease threats to, British wildlife.
For more information visit www.gardenwildlifehealth.org