Combining stool and stories: exploring antimicrobial resistance among a longitudinal cohort of international health students

A. Kamenshchikova*, P.F.G. Wolffs, C.J.P.A. Hoebe, J. Penders, H.Y. Park, M.S. Kambale, K. Horstman

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global public health concern that requires transdisciplinary and bio-social approaches. Despite the continuous calls for a transdisciplinary understanding of this problem, there is still a lack of such studies. While microbiology generates knowledge about the biomedical nature of bacteria, social science explores various social practices related to the acquisition and spread of these bacteria. However, the two fields remain disconnected in both methodological and conceptual levels. Focusing on the acquisition of multidrug resistance genes, encoding extended-spectrum betalactamases (CTX-M) and carbapenemases (NDM-1) among a travelling population of health students, this article proposes a methodology of 'stool and stories' that combines methods of microbiology and sociology, thus proposing a way forward to a collaborative understanding of AMR. Methods A longitudinal study with 64 health students travelling to India was conducted in 2017. The study included multiple-choice questionnaires (n = 64); a collection of faecal swabs before travel (T0, n = 45), in the first week in India (T1, n = 44), the second week in India (T2, n = 41); and semi-structured interviews (n = 11). Stool samples were analysed by a targeted metagenomic approach. Data from semi-structured interviews were analysed using the method of thematic analysis. Results The incidence of ESBL- and carbapenemase resistance genes significantly increased during travel indicating it as a potential risk; for CTX-M from 11% before travel to 78% during travel and for NDM-1 from 2% before travel to 11% during travel. The data from semi-structured interviews showed that participants considered AMR mainly in relation to individual antibiotic use or its presence in a clinical environment but not to travelling. Conclusion The microbiological analysis confirmed previous research showing that international human mobility is a risk factor for AMR acquisition. However, sociological methods demonstrated that travellers understand AMR primarily as a clinical problem and do not connect it to travelling. These findings indicate an important gap in understanding AMR as a bio-social problem raising a question about the potential effectiveness of biologically driven AMR stewardship programs among travellers. Further development of the 'stool and stories' approach is important for a transdisciplinary basis of AMR stewardship.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1008
Number of pages8
JournalBMC Infectious Diseases
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Sep 2021


  • Antimicrobial resistance
  • Healthy travellers
  • CTX-M
  • NDM-1
  • India
  • Social science
  • Stories

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