Sunday, August 7, 2011

Your Health: Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria on the Rise

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the antibiotic resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) that has been an increasing problem in hospitals around the world is now infecting apparently healthy schoolkids outside of hospitals. This is a major development. Up until now anti-biotic resistance was only occasionally a problem outside of hospitals (so-called community-acquired" cases). This may be changing. According to the Centers for Disease Control, MRSA was responsible for almost 19,000 US deaths in 2005.

You can help stop this by your personal meat choices and support legislation to Keep Antibiotics Working.

Evidence from Europe indicate that the community-acquired cases of MRSA are often associated with livestock operations. This is yet further evidence that the idiotic practice of pouring massive amounts of antibiotics into the feed of healthy animals is contributing to the public health risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria that threatens our children and people with a compromised immune system.

About 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are routinely added to feed of healthy livestock and poultry. Bacteria that are constantly exposed to antibiotics develop antibiotic resistance. This is simple evolution. Bacteria that develop antibiotic resistance out-compete those that don't and become the more common strain over time. Normally, the antibiotic resistant strains grow slightly slower so remain a tiny part of the bacterial population. Livestock and poultry operations, by constantly exposing bacteria to a selective pressure favoring the antibiotic resistant strains, create a situation where the antibiotic resistant strains become more common. Then when humans get sick from resistant bacteria, the antibiotics prescribed by doctors don’t work anymore. This is all really basic genetics and evolution. Yet despite these basics and the increasing evidence of a health risk to our children, too many large scale livestock and poultry operations insist on using massive amounts of antibiotics on healthy animals.

Some companies are better. For example, the restaurant Chipotle (a pseudo-Mexican food chain) offers all meats raised without antibiotics and many of its meats are free range. And some major poultry companies have phased out the use of antibiotics on healthy animals. But it remains a widespread practice.

You can read a LOT more about this issue at the Union of Concerned Scientists website.

An excerpt from their site:

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are on the rise. Patients once effectively treated for pneumonia, tuberculosis, or ear infections may now have to try three or more antibiotics before they find one that works. And as more bacterial strains develop resistance, more people will die because effective antibiotics are not identified quickly enough or because the bacteria causing the disease are resistant to all available antibiotics.

Why have bacterial strains become resistant? The short answer is overuse of antibiotics. Physicians and hospitals have overprescribed the drugs, and patients have demanded them...even for illnesses not caused by bacteria. Veterinarians, too, overprescribe drugs to treat sick animals.

It is livestock producers, however, who use the vast majority of antibiotics produced in the United States. An estimated 70 percent of antibiotics and related drugs produced in this country are used for nontherapeutic purposes such as accelerating animal growth and compensating for overcrowded and unsanitary conditions on large-scale confinement facilities known as "factory farms." This translates to about 25 million pounds of antibiotics and related drugs fed every year to livestock for nontherapeutic purposes...almost eight times the amount given to humans to treat disease.

What you can do:

The most important thing you can do is to only buy meat and chicken that specifically says "raised without antibiotics" on the label. This is perhaps the most important food choice you can make when buying meat. Check the label...if it doesn't say the meat was raised without antibiotics then it is part of this rising healthcare problem. Find out more about labeling of meat here.

Endorse Legislation to Keep Antibiotics Working

You can also urge legislation that helps limit misuse of antibiotics. Read more about antibiotic resistance and about the previous bill from the 111th Congress.

And click here to endorse legislation to keep antibiotic working.

Click here for more actions.

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