The headline ‘Federal Government to Fight Antibiotic Resistance’ sounds like a call to war, and in some ways it is. On September 18, 2014, President Obama issued an executive order outlining steps that the federal government will take (both domestically and internationally) to detect, prevent, and control illness and death related to antibiotic-resistant infections. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria – germs that don’t respond to the drugs developed to kill them – threaten to return us to the time when simple infections were often fatal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that antibiotic-resistant bacteria annually cause at least 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths in the United States. Many more people die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection.
Antibiotics are the first and most potent line of defense against bacterial diseases. But the overuse and abuse of antibiotics in the last few decades, especially to treat viruses that don’t respond to antibiotics, have led some strains of bacteria, notably Salmonella, to develop a dangerous resistance to the drugs designed to kill them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has compiled facts about antibiotic resistance:
- Antibiotic resistance has been called one of the world’s most pressing public health problems.
- The number of bacteria resistant to antibiotics has increased in the last decade. Many bacterial infections are becoming resistant to the most commonly prescribed antibiotic treatments.
- Every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed, but resistant germs may be left to grow and multiply. Repeated and improper uses of antibiotics are primary causes of the increase in drug-resistant bacteria.
- Misuse of antibiotics jeopardizes the usefulness of essential drugs. Decreasing inappropriate antibiotic use is the best way to control resistance.
- Children are of particular concern because they have the highest rates of antibiotic use.
- Antibiotic resistance can cause significant danger and suffering for people who have common infections that once were easily treatable with antibiotics. When antibiotics fail to work, the consequences are longer-lasting illnesses, more doctor visits or extended hospital stays, and the need for more expensive and toxic medications. Some resistant infections can even cause death.
How do bacteria become resistant? When bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, they start learning how to outsmart the drugs. This process occurs in bacteria found in humans, animals, and the environment. Resistant bacteria can multiply and spread easily and quickly, causing severe infections. They can also share genetic information with other bacteria, making the other bacteria resistant as well. Each time bacteria learn to outsmart an antibiotic, treatment options are more limited, and these infections pose a greater risk to human health.
Is antibiotic resistance a food safety problem? Yes, antibiotic resistance is increasing to some antibiotics commonly used to treat serious infections caused by bacterial pathogens frequently found in food, such as Salmonella and Campylobacter.
And antibiotic resistance can mean that more people become ill from eating contaminated food. Ordinarily, healthy persons who consume a few Salmonella may carry them for a few weeks without having any symptoms because those few Salmonella are held in check by the normal bacteria in their intestines. However, if a few antibiotic-resistant Salmonella begin to grow, and illness develops and the wrong antibiotic is prescribed, one for which the bacteria have resistance, the resistant bacteria can begin to grow unchecked and the illness becomes worse and may be difficult to treat.
Use antibiotics carefully and stay food safe! Barb