Let’s Give Thanks and Hope We Haven’t Lost the War Against Superbugs

Our holiday season has begun with an ominous report: In China, bacteria with a dangerous new antibiotic-resistance gene have spread from livestock to people. This gene bestows resistance against colistin — an antibiotic that has become our last hope for treating people infected with some of the worst superbugs. The scariest part is that the gene can make copies of itself and then jump between bacteria. History shows us that these mobile resistance genes can spread around the world quickly, silently hitchhiking in the guts of people and animals or on the surface of food. Consequently, this could be our last Thanksgiving when we can count on colistin to save us from superbug infections. Turkey meat in the U.S. is frequently contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, so as we prepare our feasts, let’s take some time to be thankful for a few positive things regarding agricultural antibiotic use in the U.S., while recognizing that we still have a long way to go.

On Thursday morning, as you carefully pull the plastic wrap off of your turkey and try to put it in the trash without contaminating your kitchen, be thankful that in 2003, the FDA implemented Guidance #152, which raised the bar for introducing new antibiotics to food-animal production and protected antibiotics like carbapenems from being abused in agriculture. Unfortunately, many older antibiotics like tetracyclines, penicillins, and macrolides were grandfathered in for use in food animals. Millions of pounds of these life-saving antibiotics are routinely administered to livestock to prevent infections that occur as a result of overcrowded, unsanitary, and in some cases, downright cruel living conditions. As a result, the bacteria that contaminate our holiday meats are often resistant to these important antibiotics.

As you daintily pull the neck and all —> Read More