Archives for posts with tag: antibiotics

From The Independent:

Our last line of defence against bacterial infections is fast becoming weakened by a growing number of deadly strains that are resistant to even the strongest antibiotics, according to new figures given to The Independent on Sunday by the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

The disturbing statistics reveal an explosion in cases of super-resistant strain of bacteria such as E.coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae, a cause of pneumonia and urinary tract infections, in less than five years.

Until 2008, there were fewer than five cases a year in the UK of bugs resistant to carbapenem, our most effective intravenous (IV) antibiotic. New statistics reveal how there have been 386 cases already this year, in what the HPA has called a “global public health concern”. Doctors are particularly concerned because carbapenems are often the last hope for hospital patients suffering from pneumonia and blood infections that other antibiotics have failed to treat. Such cases were unknown in the UK before 2003.

Years of over-prescribing antibiotics, bought over the counter in some countries, and their intensive use in animals, enabling resistant bacteria to enter the food chain, are among the factors behind the global spread. According to the latest figures from the World Health Organisation, some 25,000 people a year die of antibiotic-resistant infections in the European Union.

In a statement issued during a WHO conference in Baku, Azerbaijan, last week, the organisation warned that doctors and scientists throughout Europe fear the “reckless use of antibiotics” risks a “return to a pre-antibiotic era where simple infections do not respond to treatment, and routine operations and interventions become life-threatening.”

More than 50 countries signed up to a European action plan on antibiotic resistance, unveiled at the conference, which includes recommendations for greater surveillance of antibiotic resistance, stricter controls over the use of antibiotics, and improved infection control in hospitals and clinics.

“We know that now is the time to act. Antibiotic resistance is reaching unprecedented levels, and new antibiotics are not going to arrive quickly enough,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO Regional Director for Europe. “There are now superbugs that do not respond to any drug,” she added.

Dr Alan Johnson, a clinical scientist and expert in antibiotic resistance at the HPA, warned delegates at its annual conference last week that the problem is making some infections harder and in some, cases, virtually impossible, to treat.

Speaking to the IoS, he said: “We’ve had a problem of antibiotic resistance for as long as we’ve had antibiotics. The big problem at the moment is, for certain types of bacteria, we are seeing problems of resistance emerging and we don’t actually have any new antibiotics in the pipeline to deal with them.”

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From Los Angeles Times:

We’ve all heard that the overuse of antibiotics is making them less effective and fueling the rise of dangerous drug-resistant bacteria. But did you know it may also be fueling the rise of obesity, diabetes, allergies and asthma?

So says Dr. Martin Blaser, microbiologist and infectious disease specialist at New York University Langone Medical Center who studies the myriad bacteria that live on and in our bodies. He explains his theory in a commentary published in Thursday’s edition of the journal Nature.

In recent years, scientists have developed a growing appreciation for the “microbiome,” the collection of mostly useful bacteria that help us digest food, metabolize key nutrients and ward off invading pathogens. Investigators have cataloged thousands of these organisms through the National Institutes of Health’s Human Microbiome Project, begun in 2008.

Blaser is interested in why so many bacteria have colonized the human body for so long – the simple fact that they have strongly suggests that they serve some useful purpose. But these bacteria have come under attack in the last 80 or so years thanks to the development of antibiotics. The drugs certainly deserve some of the credit for extending the U.S. lifespan, Blaser notes – a baby born today can expect to live 78 years, 15 years longer than a baby born in 1940. But in many respects, an antibiotic targets a particular disease the way a nuclear bomb targets a criminal, causing much collateral damage to things you’d rather not destroy.

“Antibiotics kill the bacteria we do want, as well as those we don’t,” Blaser writes. “Sometimes, our friendly flora never fully recover.”

And that can leave us more susceptible to various kinds of diseases, especially considering that the typical American is exposed to 10 to 20 antibiotics during childhood alone. Blaser points out that the rise (let along overuse) of antibiotics coincides with dramatic increases in the prevalence of allergies, asthma, Type 1 diabetes, obesity and inflammatory bowel disease. That isn’t proof that the two are related, but it’s a question worth exploring, he says.

Take the case of Helicobacter pylori. As Blaser explains, this bacterium was “the dominant microbe in the stomachs of almost all people” in the early 1900s. But 100 years later, it is found in less than 6% of American, Swedish and German kids. One likely reason is that a single course of amoxicillin or another antibiotic to treat an ear or respiratory infection can wipe out H. pylori 20% to 50% of the time.

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From Mother Jones:

Here is a document the USDA doesn’t want you to see. It’s what the agency calls a “technical review”—nothing more than a USDA-contracted researcher’s simple, blunt summary of recent academic findings on the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant infections and their link with factory animal farms. The topic is a serious one. A single antibiotic-resistant pathogen, MRSA—just one of many now circulating among Americans—now claims more lives each year than AIDS.

Back in June, the USDA put the review up on its National Agricultural Library website. Soon after, a Dow Jones story quoted a USDA official who declared it to be based on “reputed, scientific, peer-reviewed, and scholarly journals.” She added that the report should not be seen as a “representation of the official position of USDA.” That’s fair enough—the review was designed to sum up the state of science on antibiotic resistance and factory farms, not the USDA’s position on the matter.

But around the same time, the agency added an odd disclaimer to the top of the document: “This review has not been peer reviewed. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Department of Agriculture.” And last Friday, the document (original link) vanished without comment from the agency’s website. The only way to see the document now is through the above-linked cached version supplied to me by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

What gives? Why is the USDA suppressing a review that assembles research from “reputed, scientific, peer-reviewed, and scholarly journals”?

To understand the USDA’s quashing of a report it had earlier commissioned, published, and praised, you first have to understand a key aspect of industrial-scale meat production. You see, keeping animals alive and growing fast under cramped, unsanitary conditions is tricky business. One of the industry’s tried-and-true tactics is low-level, daily doses of antibiotics. The practice helps keep infections down, at least in the short term, and, for reasons no one really understands, it pushes animals to fatten to slaughter weight faster.

Altogether, the US meat industry uses 29 million pounds of antibiotics every year. To put that number in perspective, consider that we humans in the United States—in all of our prescription fill-ups and hospital stays combined—use just over 7 million pounds per year. Thus the vast bulk of antibiotics consumed in this country, some 80 percent, goes to factory animal farms.

For years, scientists have worried that the industry’s reliance on antibiotics was contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. The European Union took action to curtail routine antibiotic use on farms in 2006 (taking Sweden’s lead, which had banned the practice 20 years before).

But here in the United States, the regulatory approach has been completely laissez-faire—and the meat industry would like to keep it that way. The industry claims that even though antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been found both in confined animals and supermarket meat, there’s simply no evidence that livestock strains are jumping to the human population.

Here is where we get back to that now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t USDA research summary, which reads like a heavily footnoted rebuttal to the industry line. Assembled by Vaishali Dharmarha, a research assistant at the University of Maryland, the report summarizes research from 63 academic papers and government studies. Here are few of her findings:

• “Use and misuse of antimicrobial drugs in food animal production and human medicine is the main factor accelerating antimicrobial resistance.”

• “[F]ood animals, when exposed to antimicrobial agents, may serve as a significant reservoir of resistant bacteria that can transmit to humans through the food supply.”

• “Several studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on antimicrobial-resistant Salmonella showed that [antibiotic resistance] in Salmonella strains was most likely due to the antimicrobial use in food animals, and that most infections caused by resistant strains are acquired from the consumption of contaminated food.”

• “Farmers and farm workers may get exposed to resistant bacteria by handling animals, feed, and manure. These exposures are of significant concern to public health, as they can transfer the resistant bacteria to family and community members, particularly through person-to-person contacts.”

• “Resistant bacteria can also spread from intensive food animal production area to outside boundaries through contact between food animals and animals in the external environment. Insects, flies, houseflies, rodents, and wild birds play an important role in this mode of transmission. They are particularly attracted to animal wastes and feed sources from where they carry the resistant bacteria to several locations outside the animal production facility.”

Naturally, such assertions didn’t please the meat industry—and the fact that they were backed up by dozens of peer-reviewed science papers no doubt only sharpened the sting. In the trade paper National Hog Farmer, a National Pork Producers Council official lashed out. Perhaps lacking factual ammunition, the official resorted to an attack on the researchers’ credentials: “We find it very disappointing that a research assistant at a university, who is not an Agricultural Research Service scientist, can develop and post such a review without it going through an agency or peer review process.”

Well, the pork producers can rest a bit easier. The researcher, Dharmarha, has been silenced. Not only has her report been erased from the USDA site, but she has been forbidden to talk to media.

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From The Washington Post:

Several environmental and public health groups filed suit against the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday to try to force the government to stop farmers from routinely adding antibiotics to livestock feed to help animals grow faster.

The groups say widespread agricultural antibiotic use and the FDA’s allowance of the practice are compounding a public health crisis: the increasing prevalence of “superbugs” that infect people and do not respond to antibiotics.

“The longer we use these drugs, the less effective the arsenal becomes,” said Margaret Mellon, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, which filed the complaint in federal court with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Animals Concern Trust and Public Citizen.

About 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States are consumed by farm animals.

Groups including the American Medical Association and the Infectious Diseases Society of America have called on the FDA to ban feeding antibiotics to healthy animals.

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From Chemical and Engineering News:

Decades after spawning a health care revolution, antibiotics are now common pollutants. Scientists’ biggest concern about these emerging contaminants is that they promote the spread of resistance. But new research suggests they also harm the microbes that cleanse groundwater of dangerous compounds, particularly nitrates . . . .

High nitrate levels in drinking water can cause methemoglobinemia, a disease that decreases the blood’s oxygen carrying capacity. Naturally-occurring bacteria in groundwater, such as Pseudomonas putida, can remove nitrates by reducing them to nitrogen gas.

In Cape Cod, Mass., very high nitrate levels co-occur in groundwater with one of the most common antibiotics in the clinical arsenal: sulfamethoxazole (SMX). For nearly a decade, microbiologist Ronald Harvey and colleagues from the U.S. Geological Survey have tracked SMX and other groundwater pollutants at an aquifer that originates at the Otis Air National Guard Base, a heavily polluted site on Cape Cod. Other researchers had shown that high doses of SMX can interfere with bacterial nitrate reduction. But no one knew if a similar response might occur at environmentally-relevant concentrations.

To answer that question, Harvey’s team first cultured bacteria from a non-contaminated portion of the aquifer. Next, they added nitrate to the cultures at levels measured in the environment, along with SMX at doses ranging from 0.005 to 2,000 µM. Bacterial growth rates dropped at all doses. At the environmentally relevant concentration of 0.005 µM SMX, the amount of total nitrate that the bacteria removed from the culture fell by nearly half. “We’re demonstrating a clear biological effect,” Harvey says. “And we’re showing that in the same bacteria that live in this particular aquifer.”

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From FRESHthemovie:

15 years ago, Russ Kremer ran an industrial hog confinement operation in Frankenstein, Missouri. Following standard practices, he fed his pigs daily doses of antibiotic for growth efficiency and to ward off illnesses. Then, one day Russ was gored by one of his hogs and nearly died from an antibiotic-resistant infection. He realized the danger posed by the overuse of antibiotics, and immediately transformed his farm. Today his hogs are antibiotic-free. Russ is the founder of the Ozark Mountain Pork Coop and the president of the Missouri Farmers Union.

From Environmental Science & Technology:

The old adage that people are known by the company they keep probably doesn’t refer to the trillions of microbes living on the human body—but it might as well. Although you may be influenced by the thousands of individuals you will meet in your lifetime, at this very moment there are more bacteria hanging out just in the palms your hands than there are humans on Earth. And the astonishing diversity of microbes that inhabit every inch of your skin as well as your gut profoundly influences your quality of life—mostly for good—from the moment you are born until the day you die.

Humans rely on our human microbiome to perform essential functions, such as protecting us from persistent pathogens, building essential vitamins, and providing us with digestive enzymes that we need to break down plant fibers for energy. Many seemingly human characteristics are also partially shaped by our bacterial shell, such as whether we are skinny or fat and how we smell. The microbes cohabitating our body outnumber human cells by a factor of 10, making us actually “superorganisms” that use our own genetic repertoire as well as those of our microbial symbionts, says Julie Segre, who works on the Human Microbiome Project at the National Human Genome Research Institute, in Bethesda, Md. We just happen to look human because our human cells are much larger than bacterial cells (C&EN, July 20, 2009, page 43).

In the past three years, several large-scale projects to map the diversity and activities of our microbial family began, in hopes of finding connections between our microbiome, health, and disease. The National Institutes of Health’s Human Microbiome Project and the European Union’s Metagenomics of the Human Intestinal Tract (MetaHIT) program are probably two of the best known. These and other projects are starting to reveal that “every part of the body has its own ecosystem,” says Rob D. Knight, a biochemist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Our bodies provide microbes with a diversity of habitats, much like the multitude of landscapes on Earth. The damp rainforest of our armpits, the anaerobic swamp of our gut, and the dry surface of our elbows recruit unique populations of bacteria. As researchers investigate the microbes in these uncharted territories, they are learning about humanity’s rapport with our microbial cohabitants and how that relationship affects obesity, attraction, diet, drug metabolism, and ailments as diverse as Crohn’s disease and psoriasis.

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