Just as incurable viruses gain new footholds around the world, a growing number of bacterial infections that were once easily treatable are now withstanding modern medicine’s arsenal of antibiotics. Twenty-three thousand Americans die from antibiotic-resistant pathogens every year. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is among the most notorious. The number of adults hospitalized due to another culprit, a resistant strain of Clostridium difficile has nearly doubled over the last decade, according to a study published last week.
A case in point: The first person diagnosed with the Ebola virus in the U.S. was initially sent home with antibiotics. The drugs, of course, wield no power against viruses.
But it’s their use in animals that has sparked the loudest debate. Despite warnings going back to penicillin-discoverer in the 1940s and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the 1970s, as well as successful efforts over the last decade in Denmark, the Netherlands and other European countries to curb the practice, livestock producers across the U.S. continue to routinely feed healthy animals small doses of antibiotics.
“The overwhelming proportion of antibiotics are used in animal feed in a very uncontrolled fashion,” said Ellen Silbergeld, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. “It is the perfect recipe for creating antibiotic resistance.”
Overall, cattle, swine, chickens and other livestock receive about 80 percent of the nation’s antibiotics — with most of those drugs administered in low concentrations to prevent the spread of disease or simply to promote growth. Just as an incomplete course of antibiotics can result in the rise of a more virulent infection in a person, this sublethal use in animals means bacteria that can withstand the drugs will survive, reproduce and pass on their resistance to the next generation of bugs on the farm. In the end, animal antibiotics are thought to affect human health via multiple pathways: direct or indirect contact with food, water, air or anywhere urine or manure goes.
A study published on Tuesday builds on evidence that antibiotic residue in the environment spurs the growth of resistant bacteria — at even lower concentrations than previously thought.
At the turn of the century, he told HuffPost, animals were receiving approximately 95 percent of the country’s antibiotics. And as in the U.S., most of that medicine was not given to sick livestock. So in 2006, the government banned the use of antibiotics as growth promoters and began requiring veterinarian oversight for other uses.
“But that didn’t result in any reduction in use of antibiotics in animals,” Kluytmans said. Rather, use of the drugs as therapy increased dramatically.
It wasn’t until the country faced two subsequent outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant infections, whose sources were traced to animals, that the numbers began to fall. “There was a lot of public awareness and media attention,” said Kluytmans. “Farmers and others involved realized that they could not continue in the same way.”
Since 2009, use of antibiotics on Dutch farms has dropped by about 60 percent. An independent authority now tracks antibiotic usage on each farm. What’s more, Kluytmans said, there have been no “measurable negative effects” on the animals or on productivity.
Juli Putnam, a spokeswoman with the FDA, said the agency is working with other federal officials to “enhance current data collection efforts,” and “intends to seek public input on such approaches.”
In 1970, the U.S. Surgeon General declared that the war against infectious disease had been won. Today, Ebola and antibiotic-resistant superbugs warn us otherwise. While Kluytmans is confident Ebola won’t pose a serious problem in developed nations, antibiotic resistance is another story. He and other infectious disease experts are particularly fearful of emerging resistance to carbapenem, one of today’s last-resort antibiotics.
Spellberg, the Los Angeles doctor who treated the young woman who died from an infection, recalled looking at a printout on the computer screen showing all the antibiotics the implicated bacteria could resist. “Resistant. Resistant. Resistant. Resistant. Resistant. It was resistant to everything,” he said in the new documentary, which is currently screening around the U.S. and will be available to the public in the spring.
“Since penicillin,” he added, “we’ve expected that we’re going to have relatively inexpensive, safe, tremendously effective drugs to treat infections, and this woman had returned to 1935.”
Please read info on probiotics for chicken.