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How does antibiotic use in animals affect us?

CDC Report "Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013
CDC Report “Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013

At least 2 million people become infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria every year in the United States. 23,000 people die as a direct result of those infections. The CDC estimates that this adds nearly $20 billion in excess direct health care costs a year. And illness doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Lost productivity to society is estimated to be $35 billion per year.

Humanity has benefitted tremendously from the creation of antibiotics, yet in recent years overuse and abuse has become a rampant problem threatening to spiral out of control. As more antibiotics are given out, they essentially lose their effectiveness because the bacteria adapt and evolve, developing immunity through genetic mutation (or through bacterium transfer).

The thing is that while we often discuss the abuse of antibiotics for common viral infections like the flu, there’s a large elephant in the room that isn’t so understood. Antibiotics are not just used by humans. In fact, more antibiotics are used in animal agriculture than by humans. We don’t know enough about what happens to them after they are ingested by livestock, only that it does happen.

Scientists at Michigan State University will be studying how those antibiotics make their way into the environment and how they might affect us. This will be the first study funded by the new Center for the Health Impacts of Agriculture.

“We want to know if antibiotic resistant genes in the environment are able to easily transfer to other microbes, including serious pathogens. By investigating these genes in the environment, we hope to determine the extent of risk to humans, and how that risk can be reduced by adjusting agricultural practices,” said lead investigator, University Distinguished Professor of plant, soil and microbial sciences Jim Tiedje.

Data Sources:
CDC | Tufts University APUA | WHO

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