What is antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria to resist the effects of an antibiotic, therefore meaning that the bacteria are not killed, and their growth is not stopped; explaining why antibiotic resistance is one of the world’s most pressing public health problem.
When sick, it is a common conclusion that antibiotics will solve the problem. But illnesses that were once easily treated with antibiotics, are becoming more difficult to cure and more expensive to treat. For example, infections from common antibiotic-resistant food borne bacteria, such as salmonella, can cause more severe health outcomes than infections with bacteria that are not resistant to antibiotics.
Which antibiotics are used?
The Use of Drugs in Food Animals: Benefits and Risks (1999) was a consensus study report that provides an overview of why and how drugs are used in the major food producing animal industries—poultry, dairy, beef, swine, and aquaculture. The authors offer analysis and insight into the 5 major classes of drugs used in food animals:
- Topical antiseptics, bactericides, and fungicides are used to treat surface skin or hoof infections, cuts and abrasions;
- Ionophores, which alter rumen microorganisms to provide more favorable and efficient energy substrates from bacterial conversion of feed and to impart some degree of protection against some parasites;
- Steroid anabolic growth promoters (whose mechanism of action resides in the interaction of estrogen-, progesterone-, or testosterone-like compounds with specific classes of hormone receptors in animal cells) and peptide production enhancers (recombinant bovine somatotropin for increased milk production in dairy cows);
- Antiparasite drugs
- Antibiotics as used to control overt and occult diseases, and to promote growth.
The committee further states that there are other drugs that modify the gastrointestinal environment to reduce the likelihood of rumen foaming and bloat in cattle, organic and inorganic water treatments that reduce the chances for water or fish infection in aquaculture, and miscellaneous drugs and compounds used with the advice of veterinarians to treat specific conditions.
In 2016, the FDA released a report discussing how antibiotic use in food animals continues to rise. The FDA states that medically important antibiotics accounted for 62% of all antibiotics sold for use in food-producing animals in 2015. Approximately 70% of all medically important antibiotics in the United States are sold for use in animals. The FDA has approved antibiotics for these uses in food animals:
- Disease treatment for animals that are sick;
- Disease control for a group of animals when some of the animals are sick;
- Disease prevention for animals that are at risk of becoming sick.
How does antibiotic resistance spread?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list a few ways people can be exposed to resistant bacteria from animals:
- Handling or eating raw or under cooked food from animals or produce contaminated with resistant bacteria.
- From contact with animal stool (either directly or when it gets into water for drinking, swimming or growing plants)
- From touching or caring for animals
How does antibiotic use in food animals affect people?
The CDC states that all animals carry bacteria in their intestines. By giving animals antibiotics, this kills most of that bacteria, but resistant bacteria can survive and multiply in the animal. When food animals are slaughtered and processed, these bacteria can contaminate the meat or other animal products. These bacteria can also get into the environment through animal stool and may spread to produce that is irrigated with contaminated water. Bottom line, food can get contaminated whether the bacteria are resistant to antibiotics or not.
You might be asking; can this affect me? The CDC says that anyone can become infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria. In the US, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die annually as a direct result of these infections.
How do we know that antibiotic use in food animals is linked to resistant infections in humans?
According to the CDC, scientists around the world have provided strong evidence that antibiotic use in food animals can lead to resistant infections in humans. Their studies have shown that:
- Antibiotic use in food animals allows antibiotic-resistant bacteria to grow and crowd out the bacteria that do respond to antibiotics;
- Resistant bacteria can contaminate food from animals; and
- Resistant bacteria in food can cause infections in humans.
So what can you do to prevent antibiotic resistance?
Although some people are at a greater risk than others, no one can completely avoid the risk of antibiotic-resistant infections. Infections with resistant organisms can be difficult to treat, requiring costly and sometimes toxic alternatives. Some resistant infections cause severe illness and may result in increased recovery time, increased medical expenses or death. The CDC provides a list of things that you can do to prevent antibiotic resistance:
- Take antibiotics only when needed
- Know who is most at risk for infection
- Young children, pregnant women, older adults, people with weakened immune systems
- Follow simple food safety tips:
- CLEAN. Wash your hands and surfaces often
- SEPARATE. Don’t cross-contaminate
- COOK. Cook to the right temperature
- CHILL. Keep your refrigerator below 40 F and refrigerate foods properly
- Report suspected outbreaks of illness
- Don’t prepare food for others if you are in poor health