Public healthU.S. moves to address antibiotic resistant bacterial diseases

Published 11 January 2011

Antibiotic resistant strands of bacteria are on the rise and threatening the efficacy of existing drug treatments; scientists fear a time when antibiotics will be useless to stop infections due mutations caused by the overuse of antibiotics; legislation has been introduced at the federal and state level targeting the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals to help reduce the prevalence of super bacteria; an FDA study found that 80 percent of all antibiotics produced in the U.S. went to farm animals

In an attempt to combat the rise of antibiotic resistant strands of diseases and maintain the existing effectiveness of antibiotics, the federal government, state governments, and federal agencies are increasingly moving to limit the use of antibiotics in healthy farm animals.

The rise of antibiotic resistant strains or “super bacteria” poses a serious threat to public health, as these strains are immune to existing antibiotics and are therefore difficult to treat and potentially fatal. If left unaddressed, the results could be catastrophic with the inability to treat increasingly dangerous skin and lung infections and the return of deadly infectious diseases like tuberculosis – which has become more difficult to treat due to mutations which render it immune to current drugs.

Antibiotics are the most commonly prescribed drugs in modern medicine, and since their introduction have saved millions of lives and significantly mitigated the impact of catastrophic diseases like malaria, syphilis, and tuberculosis. In a sign of growing concern in the public health community, the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified antibiotic resistant bacteria as one of the three greatest threats to human health.

In the United States, public health officials and watch groups have turned their attention towards America’s livestock in an effort to combat the rise of drug resistant strains of bacteria and maintain the effectiveness of existing antibiotics.

Many scientists believe that the excessive use of antibiotics, especially in animals raised for consumption, have resulted in the creation of super bacteria. According to data released last month by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), roughly 80 percent of all the antibiotics sold and distributed in 2009 went to livestock and poultry.

This report is the first ever public accounting of the quantity of antibiotics sold and distributed to livestock in the United States, and is the result of a law passed in 2008 aimed to increase government transparency.

Food Safety News reports that 28.8 million pounds were sold and distributed to animals, compared to an estimated seven million pounds for humans. These numbers prove troubling for many scientists who are concerned about the growing use of antibiotics and their decreasing effectiveness in treating disease. Pigs, cattle, and poultry are regularly fed low doses of antibiotics in their food and water when they are not clinically sick to increase the rate of weight gain or improve feed efficiency, rather than to treat or prevent the spread of disease.

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