Overuse of antibiotics in animal feed is making it harder to treat life-threatening infections in young children, according to a new report. The report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says the widespread practice of giving antibiotics to healthy livestock to promote growth and prevent disease among animals is making the drugs ineffective when they are needed to treat infections in people.
“The antibiotics that are fed to the animals lead to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the animal,” study coauthor Dr. Theoklis Zaoutis, of the University of Pennsylvania and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told Reuters Health by email. “These bacteria can then be spread to other animals, the environment, and to humans.”
More than two million Americans become ill with antibiotic-resistant infections each year, and 23,000 die as a result, Dr. Zaoutis and coauthor Dr. Jerome Paulson note in an article online November 16 in Pediatrics. Dr. Paulson formerly chaired the executive committee of the AAP’s Council on Environmental Health.
The researchers estimate that national costs to the U.S. healthcare system attributable to antibiotic-resistant infections run from $21 billion to $34 billion annually.
Pediatricians and parents can help combat antibiotic resistance by avoiding use of antibiotics to treat colds or other viral illnesses.
Parents and other consumers may also help discourage the use of antibiotics in livestock feed by choosing to buy only organic products or foods labeled as “raised without antibiotics,” Dr. Urvashi Rangan, executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center, told Reuters Health by email.
“Consuming foods from animals produced without the routine use of antibiotics is one important step in reducing personal risk; so is cooking our foods thoroughly,” according to Dr. Rangan, who wasn’t involved in the report.
But the long-term solution to antibiotic resistance may require changes in the way we produce animals for food, including stopping the use of antibiotics and other drugs in healthy animals and also implementing better drug-free hygiene and management practices to curb disease risk on farms, Dr. Rangan added.
Even purchasing organic doesn’t guarantee that there will not be resistant bacteria present, Dr. Timothy Landers, an antibiotics researcher at Ohio State University in Columbus, told Reuters Health by email.
“From a farmer’s perspective, the use of antibiotics helps ensure that food is safe, nutritious, and affordable,” Dr. Landers, who wasn’t involved in the study, said. “What we have lacked is a coordinated, integrated approach to antibiotic resistance including experts on human health, food production, animal health, and the environment.”
The authors reported no funding or disclosures.