Antibiotics and Animals growing concerns 
Author Message
 Antibiotics and Animals growing concerns

By Amy Norton

NEW YORK, Oct 17 (Reuters Health) - Three new studies add to the
growing concern over the human health effects of routinely giving
antibiotics to animals destined to enter the">food supply.

Two of the studies uncovered significant amounts of drug-resistant
bacteria in chicken and meat taken from US supermarket shelves. The
third demonstrated that such bacteria can persist in the intestinal
tract days after a person ingests them.

Researchers say the findings bolster the arguments of public health
experts who want to limit the use of antibiotics in livestock. The
{*filter*} are used to treat sick animals, but in the US they are also
routinely given to boost the nutritional benefits of animal feed and
promote growth in">food animals.

The concern with this practice is that the needless use of
antibiotics gives a survival advantage to drug-resistant strains of
the bacteria behind foodborne illnesses and other infections. Many
health experts worry that">food animals are providing a "reservoir" of
drug-resistant bacteria that could be transmitted to humans. And the
new studies add even more weight to these concerns, according to

"They are adding nails to the coffin," Dr. Sherwood L. Gorbach told
Reuters Health in an interview.

Gorbach, a researcher at Tufts University School of Medicine in
Boston, Massachusetts, wrote an editorial published with the three
reports in the October 18th issue of The New England Journal of

In one study, public health officials tested chicken samples from
supermarket shelves in parts of Oregon, Georgia, Maryland and
Minnesota. They found that at least 17% of chickens from each area
had Enterococcus faecium bacteria that were resistant to an
antibiotic combination called quinupristin-dalfopristin.

E. faecium is notoriously resistant to antibiotics, and illnesses
caused by the bacteria--which include infections of the {*filter*} and
urinary tract--are a growing problem in US hospitals. The
quinupristin-dalfopristin combination was approved in the US in 1999
for the treatment of E. faecium infections that do not respond to the
old standby antibiotic vancomycin.

The chicken in this study likely developed bacteria resistant to the
drug combination because the animals had been routinely fed
antibiotics in the same class, according to researchers led by Dr. L.
Clifford McDonald of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
in Atlanta, Georgia.

That drug, called {*filter*}iamycin, has been used in the US since 1974
to promote growth in farm animals.

Similarly, another research team found that of 200 ground meat
samples bought in the Washington, DC, area, 20% contained various
strains of Salmonella bacteria, most of which were resistant to at
least one antibiotic. Among the strains isolated was a particularly
virulent, resistant strain known to be a major cause of salmonella
outbreaks. The meat samples included beef, chicken, turkey and pork.

"These findings provide support for the adoption of guidelines for
the prudent use of antibiotics in">food animals," Dr. David G. White,
of the">food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine
in Laurel, Maryland, and his colleagues.

Still, the immediate threat to human health posed by drug-resistant
bacteria in meat is not fully clear. Besides studying chicken
samples, McDonald's team analyzed 334 human stool samples submitted
to the study areas' health departments. Only three showed
drug-resistant E. faecium, and the researchers suggest this means
that {*filter*}iamycin use in animals "has not yet had a substantial
influence" on human health.

However, the third study suggests that drug-resistant E. faecium from
animal products does live in the human digestive tract for up to 2
weeks after ingestion. Danish researchers had healthy volunteers
consume milk laced with safe amounts of the bacteria, then collected
stool samples to track what happened to the bacteria once ingested.
They found traces of drug-resistant E. faecium in samples from 8 of
12 volunteers 6 days after ingestion and in one volunteer 14 days

This, Gorbach explained in an interview, shows that E. faecium
bacteria in the">food supply "don't just pass through...they establish
temporary residence."

This residence itself is not enough to cause illness, a co-author on
the study, Dr. Niels Frimodt-Moller, told Reuters Health. But if, for
instance, a person receives antibiotics in a hospital, these
drug-resistant bacteria may "overgrow" in the intestines, spread to
the skin and other body areas and possibly contaminate hospital
equipment such as catheters.

Taken together, these studies provide the "smoking gun" that argues
for a ban on using antibiotics to promote growth in livestock,
according to Gorbach.

Europe has issued such a ban, and, Gorbach noted, the US">food and
Drug Administration is considering the move.

Health experts who advocate limiting antibiotic use want the {*filter*} to
be used only against specific pathogens in sick animals, by order of
a veterinarian.

For their part, consumers can prevent the transmission of foodborne
bacteria by properly handling raw meat and thoroughly cooking it
before eating. However, Gorbach said, that is easier said than
done--since, for instance, traces of bacteria from uncooked meat can
readily be left on kitchen surfaces.

"Most consumers," he noted, "aren't microbiologists."

SOURCE: The New England Journal of Medicine 2001;345:1147-1154,
1155-1160, 1161-1166, 1202-1203.

Wed, 07 Apr 2004 01:04:57 GMT
 [ 1 post ] 

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