October 23, 2007

Antibiotic-Resistant Staph

Widespread antibiotic overuse and misuse have created strains of drug-resistant Staphylococcus bacteria that are moving beyond the confines of the hospitals where they're thought to have originated. The New York Times reports:

... A virulent strain of bacteria that resists many antibiotics appears to be killing more people annually than AIDS, emphysema or homicide, taking an estimated 19,000 lives in 2005, according toa study published last week in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

... Without question, people need to show far more respect for antibiotics. Misuse of antibiotics allows bacteria to evolve and develop resistance to drugs. But parents often pressure pediatricians to prescribe antibiotics even when they don’t help the vast majority of childhood infections. When you do take an antibiotic, finish the dose. Antibiotic resistance is bad for everyone, but your body can also become particularly vulnerable to resistant bacteria if you are careless with the drugs. ...

You know who else is careless with antibiotics, though? The livestock industry. Specifically, factory farms. Why? Because they keep their animals in such cramped areas, which are usually also filthy, and feed them things their bodies weren't meant to tolerate. Without antibiotics, these animals would just keel over and die. Maybe you're wondering how much antibiotic could they really be using?

Seventy percent of all antimicrobials used in the United States are fed to livestock. This accounts for 25 million pounds of antibiotics annually, more than 8 times the amount used to treat disease in humans.

That much. A lot. And does it show up in the meat and milk these animals produce? Damn skippy. John Kirk, DVM at UC Davis, gives a few reasons why this might occur:

- Not following label directions for correct treatment

- Not following the label directions for the appropriate withdrawal period

- Treatment not recorded as a written record—shipped the cow too soon

- Poor animal identification

Dr. Kirk speaks from the assumption that, of course, these antibiotics are being given to animals for specific conditions. But on many factory farms, antibiotics are routine, bulk feed ingredients, even though animals so treated aren't supposed to enter the foodstream until the drugs are out of their systems. It's just that there are these regrettable, common mistakes, you see, stemming from the fact that animals are meant to live out in the open and eat what their predecessors ate so that their immune systems are healthy enough to keep them alive on their own.

What all this means is that you can't know, when you drink the milk or eat the meat of an animal that's been raised in factory farm conditions, if you're getting a low dose of antibiotics. An antibiotic that you won't be taking a full course of, that will then give bacteria in your body a chance to develop immunity to it. Any animal whose milk or meat isn't specifically labeled antibiotic-free poses this risk.

Posted by natasha at October 23, 2007 09:40 AM | Health/Medicine/Health Care | Technorati links |