Low doses of penicillin routinely fed to livestock in the 1950s in North America and Europe may have encouraged antibiotic-resistant bacteria to evolve and spread…
Bacteria that can pass on genes resistant to ampicillin, one of the most commonly used antibiotics today, emerged several years before the widespread use of this antibiotic in humans, according to new research published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases on 29 November 2017.
The findings also indicate that a possible cause was the common practice of adding low doses of penicillin to animal feed in the 1950s and ’60s.
The study comes just weeks after the World Health ORganisation (WHO) called for the end to routine antibiotic use to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy farm animals.
Impact of antibiotic residues in farming environments
“Our findings suggest that antibiotic residues in farming environments such as soil, waste water, and manure may have a much greater impact on the spread of resistance than previously thought. There is an urgent need to re-evaluate the use of antibiotics in animals. This must include close international monitoring and surveillance of resistance in both human and animal health.” says Dr Francois-Xavier Weill, Institut Pasteur, who led the study.
Antibiotic resistance kills around 25 000 people a year in Europe, and this is predicted to rise to over 10 million people worldwide by 2050. Many bacteria that cause serious infections in humans like Salmonella, have already developed resistance to common antibiotics.
Banned in Europe
Writing in a linked Comment, Dr Sandra Van Puyvelde and colleagues from the Institute of Tropical Medicine Antwerp, Belgium say, “Antibiotic growth promoters have been gradually banned in Europe since 1996 (with a complete ban in 2006), without adverse effects on animal production, but resulting in a decrease in antibiotic resistance in pigs and poultry.
“Extensive use of antibiotics, however, continues in low-income and middle-income countries and in booming economies, particularly in intense farming such as that of fish and shellfish.”
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