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On World Health Day, a Major Scare

Microbes are winning, and factory farms are implicated

The World Health Organization (WHO) has delivered a sober message for World Health Day (April 7th): Antibiotics are becoming less and less effective.

“The message on this World Health Day is loud and clear,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO director. “The world is on the brink of losing these miracle cures. In the absence of urgent corrective and protective actions, the world is heading towards a post-antibiotic era, in which many common infections will no longer have a cure and will once again kill unabated.”

The latest superbug, known as NDM-1, simply destroys an important group of antibiotics used for difficult infections in hospitals.

NDM-1, which has been found in the Indian subcontinent and also in the U.K., is just the latest alarming example of how microbes are becoming increasingly immune to antibiotics. And with no effective new antibiotics in development to help ward off the consequences, many experts are warning that medical care is in danger of reverting back to a pre-antibiotic era.

“So much of modern medicine — from gut surgery to cancer treatment, to transplants — depends on our ability to treat infection. If resistance destroys that ability then the whole edifice of modern medicine crumbles,” said David Livermore, director of antibiotic resistance monitoring at the U.K.’s Health Protection Agency.

In the United States alone, hospital-acquired, drug-resistant bacterial infections kill 63,000 patients each year.

Most antibiotics are being sold to factory farms

It’s not simply human abuse of antibiotics that’s causing the problem. Fully 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States each year are used on farm animals – mostly at factory farms.

In February, the Food and Drug Administration confirmed this figure to Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who is introducing new legislation to cut down on antibiotics at factory farms, where they are routinely added to the food in an attempt to ward off disease in what are unhealthy and often insanitary conditions, and also because antibiotics cause animals to grow faster.

“Decades of research on antibiotic over-use in animals shows that the drugs’ use encourages the development of resistant organisms on the farm that then move off the farm — and most recently, that low-dose use, what the industry calls ‘sub-therapeutic’ use, may actually stimulate the emergence of mutations even more than full-strength use,” said Maryn McKenna, an infectious disease journalist and author of Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA.

What do you say? Have you or your family or pets had a problem with drug-resistant infections? If so, what steps have you taken? Let us know in a comment below or on Facebook.

What can you do? Don’t take antibiotics or give them to your children or pets without confirming with your doctor that they are essential. There’s a residue of antibiotics in all animal products (including eggs and dairy), except when animals are raised in completely natural conditions. Reduce your own intake of antibiotics by cutting down on these foods.