When antibiotics stop working

This one actually scares me.  What if you had an infection and the antibiotic the doctor gave you to fight the bacteria didn’t work? This is known as antibiotic resistance and worldwide it’s resulting in more deaths than HIV and malaria combined. Closer to home, three million antibiotic resistant infections occur every year. What’s causing this growing problem? It’s farm animals, although it’s really not their fault, it’s the way they are raised.

When bacteria are exposed to an antibiotic, some bacteria die from it but some are resistant and able to survive. After a while, only the resistant bacteria are left and they are the ones that eventually take over. So to avoid this problem, we should only use antibiotics when we really need them and certainly not overuse them. While doctors need to be careful to avoid over-prescribing to their patients, the biggest source of antibiotic resistance comes from farm animals. About 70 percent of medically important antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used on farm animals. Sometimes they are needed to treat illness, but for many years livestock and poultry farmers also gave healthy animals antibiotics to promote their growth. Although it is no longer legal to administer antibiotics for that purpose, farmers still give antibiotics to treat sick animals or to “prevent” infections, despite little evidence that this works. This is all that’s needed to open the door to resistant bacteria, and some countries have no restrictions on antibiotic use at all.

Bacteria get around. Resistant bacteria can spread like wildfire between farm animals living under crowded conditions in what’s know as factory farms. The farm hands can become infected while working with farm animals, and may transmit these resistant bacteria to others. Once it’s out in the human population, we spread it amongst ourselves.

Some meat labels claim that the meat has been raised where antibiotics are never used. However, it turns out that animals can still pick up resistant bacteria from farm workers and the environment. In one study, 15% of animals raised under the “No Antibiotics Ever” program still were found to have antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It seems that the only answer is to simply stop eating meat!