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Pediatricians' Group Urges Cuts in Antibiotic Use in Livestock

Widespread practice is boosting bacterial resistance to drugs, putting kids in danger

Overuse of antibiotics in farm animals poses a real health risk to children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns in a new report.

This common practice is already contributing to bacterial resistance to medicines and affecting doctors' ability to treat life-threatening infections in kids, according to a HealthDay article on the AAP report, which was published online November 16 in the journal Pediatrics.

"The connection between production uses of antibiotics in the agricultural sector to antibiotic resistance is alarming," said Victoria Richards, an associate professor of medical sciences at the Quinnipiac University School of Medicine in Hamden, Connecticut. She believes the danger is "not only for infants and children but other vulnerable populations, such as the pregnant and the older individuals."

As the academy explained in its report, antibiotics are often added to the feed of healthy livestock to boost growth, increase feed efficiency, or prevent disease. However, the practice can also make antibiotics ineffective when they are needed to treat infections in people. Some examples of emerging antibiotic germs include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Clostridium  difficile, and highly resistant strains of the tuberculosis bacterium.

Each year, more than 2 million Americans develop antibiotic-resistant infections and more than 23,000 die from these infections, the academy said. In 2013, the highest incidence of such infections was among children younger than 5, federal government statistics show.

"Children can be exposed to multiple-drug-resistant bacteria, which are extremely difficult to treat if they cause an infection, through contact with animals given antibiotics and through consuming the meat of those animals," said report author Dr. Jerome Paulson, immediate past chair of the academy's executive committee of the Council on Environmental Health. "Like humans, farm animals should receive appropriate antibiotics for bacterial infections. However, the indiscriminate use of antibiotics without a prescription or the input of a veterinarian puts the health of children at risk."

Dr. Ken Spaeth, chief of occupational and environmental medicine at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, New York, said that given the huge quantities of antibiotics given to livestock each year, "it should be no surprise that animals receiving these antibiotics eventually produce and spread antibiotic-resistant bacteria."

"Some of these drug-resistant bacteria have been found in the intestinal flora [microbial communities] of humans, while other such bacteria end up reaching consumers via contaminated meat and chicken," Spaeth explained. "What's more, the resistant bacteria end up spreading into the ambient environment through water, soil, and air that comes in contact with the bacteria, thereby creating reservoirs of resistant strains which allow for further expansion of resistance."

Spaeth noted that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have called for curbing antibiotic use in animals. But the authors of the new report expressed concern over resistance from the agriculture and farming industry to such measures.

Source: HealthDay, November 16, 2015.

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