Save Antibiotics to Save Human Lives
April 27, 2009
In 2005, an estimated 18,000 people nationwide died from MRSA, one of the growing number of infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Now, a Pew Charitable Trusts study has found that many of these resistant bacteria can be traced to the use of human antibiotics on livestock in an effort to increase the animals' growth in poor living conditions.
Congress is considering a bill, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, which would withdraw seven classes of antibiotics from farms unless animals are actually sick. Dr. Glenn Morris, director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida, says this action is critically important to Americans' health.
"We may have strains of staph arising now where there is essentially no antibiotic left that can treat them. We may be moving into what has been called the 'post-antibiotic era.' What that will do is, in many ways, move medicine back 50 years."
Morris says fighting serious infection - and medical miracles like organ transplants, chemotherapy and many surgeries - is only possible with effective antibiotics. Seventy percent of the antibiotics used in the United States go to healthy livestock, he notes, where they become a breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Some feedlot owners say antibiotics are needed to protect the nation's food supply and cannot be blamed for the increase in resistant bacteria.
Dramatic action must be taken to decrease the use of antibiotics, Morris urges, not only on farms, but in hospitals and doctor's offices.
"Antibiotics are wonderful drugs, but the problem is there are not that many new ones being developed, and the bacteria are rapidly evolving resistance mechanisms that allow them to resist being killed."
Morris says we can help protect ourselves by handling food properly and only using antibiotics as a last resort.
"We don't have that many antibiotics left. Some of the kind of final, remaining antibiotics that we still have available in humans, they're now starting to want to use in animals. Let's try to reserve these antibiotics for human use."
More information is available at www.saveantibiotics.org.