Our lungs need to stay clear of mucous and toxins.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are common in American meat, and the microbes survive in the human intestine for a week or more, where they could potentially be the source of drug-resistant infections in people.
Antibiotics are routinely given to chickens, pigs, and cattle to prevent illness and to promote growth.
The drugs are put in feed or water in concentrations below that used to treat infections. The practice encourages the emergence of antibiotic-resistant microbes.
Numerous groups are pushing for a ban in the United States.
Two studies uncovered significant amounts of drug-resistant bacteria in chicken and meat taken from US supermarket shelves. A third demonstrated that such bacteria can persist in the intestinal tract days after a person ingests them.
The drugs are used to treat sick animals, but in the US they are also routinely given to boost the nutritional benefits of animal feed and promote growth in food animals.
Our concern with this practice is that the needless use of antibiotics gives a survival advantage to drug-resistant strains of the bacteria behind food-borne illnesses and other infections.
Many health experts worry that food animals are providing a "reservoir" of drug-resistant bacteria that could be transmitted to humans.
New studies found that at least 17% of chickens from chicken samples from supermarket shelves in parts of Oregon, Georgia, Maryland, and Minnesota had Enterococcus faecium bacteria that were resistant to an antibiotic combination called quinupristin-dalfopristin.
E. faecium is notoriously resistant to antibiotics, and illnesses caused by the bacteria -- which include infections of the blood and urinary tract -- are a growing problem in US hospitals. The quinupristin-dalfopristin combination was approved in the US in 1999 for the treatment of E. faecium infections that do not respond to the old standby antibiotic vancomycin.
That drug, called virginiamycin, has been used in the US since 1974 to promote growth in farm animals.
Similarly, another research team found that of 200 ground meat samples bought in the Washington, DC, area, 20% contained various strains of Salmonella bacteria, most of which were resistant to at least one antibiotic.
Among the strains isolated was a particularly virulent, resistant strain known to be a major cause of salmonella outbreaks. The meat samples included beef, chicken, turkey, and pork.
The third study suggests that drug-resistant E. faecium from animal products does live in the human digestive tract for up to 2 weeks after ingestion.
Danish researchers had healthy volunteers consume milk laced with safe amounts of the bacteria, then collected stool samples to track what happened to the bacteria once ingested. They found traces of drug-resistant E. faecium in samples from 8 of 12 volunteers 6 days after ingestion and in one volunteer 14 days afterward.
This residence itself is not enough to cause illness. But if for instance, a person receives antibiotics in a hospital, these drug-resistant bacteria may "overgrow" in the intestines, spread to the skin and other body areas and possibly contaminate hospital equipment such as catheters.
Taken together, these studies provide adequate information to argue for a ban on using antibiotics to promote growth in livestock. Europe has issued such a ban, and, Gorbach noted, the US Food and Drug Administration is considering the move.
Health experts who advocate limiting antibiotic use want the drugs to be used only against specific pathogens in sick animals, by order of a veterinarian.
NEJM October 18, 2001;3451147-1154, 1155-1160, 1161-1166, 1202-1203
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