News / USA

Antibiotics Breed Drug Resistance in Pigs

Critics call for tighter controls

A new study found increases in about 20 different antibiotic-resistance genes in pigs that were fed low doses of antibiotics.
A new study found increases in about 20 different antibiotic-resistance genes in pigs that were fed low doses of antibiotics.

Multimedia

Audio

Pigs given low doses of antibiotics had more E. coli in their guts, and that bacteria showed an increased resistance to antibiotics, according to new research.

The study confirms the routine practice of feeding antibiotics to food animals increases drug resistance in the bacteria living in those animals.

The practice is common at large livestock operations worldwide. But experts say it is helping spawn new types of antibiotic-resistant disease organisms, fueling a global public health crisis.

California executive Tom Dukes had a close call with one such superbug. He got painful stomach cramps a couple years ago. His doctor said it was a serious intestinal condition called diverticulitis and prescribed antibiotics.



“Started those on Monday morning and by Tuesday night,  I really felt like a million bucks,” he says.

But a few months later, Dukes got the symptoms again. Again, he got antibiotics.

Drug failure


This time, though, they did not work. He wound up in the emergency room, in incredible pain.

“I’d never encountered anything like this before," Dukes says. "Out of all the sports injuries and broken arms and things like that, that all paled in comparison.”

Drug-resistant E. coli bacteria were escaping into his abdomen through a tear in his colon. Emergency surgery removed a 20-centimeter section.

Doctors had only one type of drug left that would kill the germs. That saved his life.

Dukes is a self-described workout fanatic who spends a couple hours a day in the gym. So how does an otherwise-healthy person get a life-threatening superbug?

“Although we’ll never know for sure exactly, it seems that the probable cause was basically from eating tainted meat,” he says.

Healthy animals vs. sick people

Animals raised for meat at large livestock operations around the world are commonly given antibiotics to prevent disease and to help them grow bigger with less feed. In the United States, more antibiotics are used for healthy animals than for sick people.

It’s a controversial practice. In a new study, U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher Thad Stanton and colleagues looked at bacteria coming out of pigs fed some of those antibiotics.

They saw “increases in about 20 different antibiotic resistance genes,” he says, including genes for resistance to one type of antibiotic that was not even fed to the pigs.  

“We also saw increases in E. coli populations, which were unexpected,” he says.

Stanton notes that most E. coli are harmless, but some do cause disease. And even the harmless ones can pass resistance genes to their not-so-harmless cousins.

Long-running debate


This study, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is just the latest round in a debate that stretches back four decades. It has been known for at least that long that feeding livestock antibiotics generates resistance.

But Liz Wagstrom, chief veterinarian for the National Pork Producers Council says, “The bottom line is, what does that mean for either animal health or public health?”

Wagstrom doubts there is much impact at all. She says controls are in place at every step of the journey, from farm to slaughterhouse to market, to keep bacteria out of the food supply.

“The potential adverse effects of that bacteria being resistant are just very, very small. Close to zero.”

'Extremely concerning'

Not so, says Jim Johnson, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Minnesota and an expert with the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Over his 25-year career in medicine, he has watched one drug after another fall to antibiotic resistance.

“The resistance that’s showing up in the E. coli that are coming in on meat products from antibiotic-fed farm animals is extremely concerning,” he says

U.S. regulators recently restricted the use in livestock of one vital group of antibiotics and are recommending other limits. Critics say much tighter controls are needed.

Control issues

But the threats are even greater in the developing world, where regulations and enforcement are weaker, says Bernard Vallat, head of the World Organization for Animal Health, OIE.

“More than 100 countries have no appropriate legislation to implement control on those products," he says. In those countries, "there is no control on importation, no control on registration, no control on distribution and use.”

And Vallat says resistant bacteria can travel anywhere in a globalized world.

Experts note that livestock are far from the only source of resistant bacteria. Use and misuse of antibiotics in people is at least as big a problem - perhaps more so.

For people like Tom Dukes, who carries the bacteria in his gut, where the bacteria came from is less important than where they go.

“I kinda live every day knowing it’s still there," he says. "And if it ever gets out again, that they may not have anything to combat it this time.”

It’s a fear that’s growing for patients and doctors around the world.

You May Like

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid