For many years, we've been following the research on phages, viruses that kill bacteria, once a staple of Soviet medicine and now touted as a possible answer to the worrying rise of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Read the rest
An alarming story in the Washington Post about US residents going to Mexico for more affordable surgery and then contracting a deadly microbial infection.
Tamika Capone thought she was making a smart call by traveling to Mexico for bariatric surgery. Her doctor had urged her to have the procedure to reduce her out-of-control weight and blood pressure. But her husband’s health insurance would not cover the $17,500 bill. After a friend got the surgery in Tijuana for $4,000, Capone decided to do the same. Nearly four months later, the Arkansas woman is one of at least a dozen U.S. residents who returned from surgeries in Tijuana with a rare and potentially deadly strain of bacteria resistant to virtually all antibiotics, say federal health officials. Some in the group recovered, but Capone, 40, remains seriously ill despite being treated with a barrage of drugs.
Using antibiotics to keep livestock healthy until they're chopped up and smooshed into burgers and chicken nuggets is not a great idea: we're already facing a bevy of antibiotic-resistant bugs hellbent on killing us. Throwing the drugs down our throat, in meat or pill-form, is only going to make things worse. Doctors are coming to understand this and, in many cases, are prescribing antibiotics as a last resort. The folks that produce meat for burger joint supply chains? Not so much. By pumping their livestock full of antibiotics, whether the animals are sick or not, is a great way to ensure that the the animals stay healthy until they're sent to the slaughter. Despite the dangers posed by overuse of these wonder drugs, a lot of burger joints are fine with this:
Twenty-five of the top US burger chains were graded on their antibiotic policies in a collaborative report released Wednesday. Only two chains received As, Shake Shack and BurgerFi; the other 23 got a D minus or F.
Wendy's was given a D minus for a policy that the authors described as "while far from comprehensive ... a positive step forward." According to the company's website, Wendy's will get about 15% of its beef from producers that have committed to a 20% reduction in antibiotics used in their livestock and whose cattle's antibiotic use can be tracked and reduced.
For their efforts, as weaksauce as they are, Wendy's scored the only D issued by the study. McDonald's, Burger King, Sonic, Hardee's, Whataburger, Carls Jr., Culver's, Steak n' Shake, In n' Out, White Castle, Smashburger, Checkers, Krystal, Freddy's, Habit, Rally's, Fuddruckers, A&W (in the U.S., anyway) Jack's and FarmerBoys all earned an F rating. Read the rest
Colistin is known as the "antibiotic of last resort," and is given to humans who are extremely ill. India has been using hundreds of tons of colistin to make healthy meat animals like chickens grow more quickly.
From The Guardian:
A study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found that hundreds of tonnes of colistin, described as an antibiotic of last resort, have been shipped to India for the routine treatment of animals, chiefly chickens, on farms.
The finding is concerning because the use of such powerful drugs can lead to an increasing resistance among farm animals around the world. Colistin is regarded as one of the last lines of defence against serious diseases, including pneumonia, which cannot be treated by other medicines. Without these drugs, diseases that were commonly treatable in the last century will become deadly once again.
There is nothing to prevent Indian farmers, which include some of the world’s biggest food producers, from exporting their chickens and other related products overseas. There are currently no regulations that would prevent such export to the UK on hygiene terms, except for those agreed under the EU. Any regulations to be negotiated after Brexit might not take account of these regulations.
Image: Pexels, CC0 License Read the rest
Back in September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report connecting the use of antibiotics in livestock to antibiotic resistance in humans. It was an important step in turning science into action. Although human use and misuse of antibiotics and the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in hospitals are important parts of the puzzle of antibiotic resistance, the massive use of antibiotics by the agricultural industry also plays a key role. In fact, the vast majority of antibiotics used in the United States are used by animals. (Reasonable estimates range as high as 80%.)
What's more, the vast majority of that antibiotic use has nothing to do with the health of the animals. The antibiotics have the side effect of promoting weight gain. Important drugs like penicillin and tetracycline are regularly doled out to cows and pigs and chickens as part of their daily feed in order to make them fatter — a practice which has been shown to directly reduce those drugs' effectiveness at treating actual illness in humans. Today, the FDA announced that it plans to change this ... but there are problems. Read the rest
Last night, the PBS show Frontline aired a new documentary about antibiotic resistance and the growing risks we all face from the increasingly untreatable bacteria that live in both hospitals and our communities. Starting at noon Eastern/11:00 Central, I'll be moderating a live web chat with the documentary's producers and infectious disease expert Dr. Sean Elliot. We'll be talking about the film, but we'll also be taking your questions and trying to add some context to the fear. We know antibiotic resistance is a big problem. So what can we actually do about it?
You can follow along with the chat and submit questions here: Read the rest
Later today, I'll be moderating a live web chat about antibiotic resistance with an infectious disease expert and the producers of PBS Frontline's new documentary "Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria". The chat starts at noon Eastern/11:00 Central and will be posted here. We'll be taking reader questions. If you can't make it, you can post questions the comment thread for this post in our BBS. Hope you can join us! Read the rest
Tonight at 10:00 Eastern/9:00 Central, PBS Frontline will air a documentary about the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. I got a chance to see a preview of the show, and it's definitely interesting, including details I wasn't previously aware of, despite having written about this topic before. Particularly interesting: An emphasis on naturally occurring gene transfer between different species of bacteria, which is allowing antibiotic resistance to spread at an alarmingly quick rate. I had also not realized that antibiotic-resistant bacteria probably kill more Americans every year than AIDS — "probably", because nobody is required to actually track and report this stuff. Your local hospital could be in the midst of a serious outbreak of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and, unless they choose to voluntarily release that information, you might never know.
Whether or not you get a chance to watch the documentary tonight, we hope you'll join us here tomorrow for a live chat session with the producers and a doctor who specializes in treating patients with antibiotic-resistant infections. That starts at noon Eastern/11:00 central, and will be moderated by either me or Rob. We've got some questions we're looking forward to addressing with the panel, and we hope you'll bring in some great questions, too. The first half of the chat will focus on the documentary. The second half will be aimed more at a practical understanding of what you can actually do to protect yourself, your family, and your community. Read the rest
In 1950, farmers praised the news that small amounts of antibiotics would help their livestock put on more weight, faster. Ironically, that same year, different scientists published some early evidence of antibacterial resistance. At Scientific American's new food blog, Maureen Ogle writes about the history of antibiotic use in agriculture. Her story provides some great context to recent headlines, helping us better understand why our society originally made the decisions that led to our current struggle against antibiotic resistance. Read the rest
Tuberculosis — aka, the reason everybody in 19th century literature is always coughing up blood, escaping to the countryside for "better air", or dying tragically young — is back. And this time, it's evolved a resistance to antibiotics. In fact, in a handful of cases, tuberculosis has been resistant to every single antibiotic available to treat it. Tom Levenson explains what's happening and why it matters at The New Yorker. Read the rest