Utilization of antibiotics in food-producing animals has resulted in a larger risk of life-threatening infections in young children – and significantly reduced medicine’s ability to treat those infections.
The threat is the subject of a report published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The lead author and the AAP’s immediate past chair of the executive committee of the Council of Environmental Health, Dr. Jerome A. Paulson, FAAP, stated in the introduction that antimicrobial resistance is one of the major threats to world public health, and puts our ability to treat infectious diseases at risk.
The report comes out on the same day the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement which says there are global misunderstandings about antibiotic resistance.
Officials from WHO also said that 64% of individuals surveyed in 12 countries stated that antibiotic resistance is a serious issue. On the other hand, 66% said that people are not in danger of a drug-resistant infection if they are taking antibiotics as prescribed. 44% stated that antibiotic resistance is only an issue for those who take prescriptions frequently.
How bad is the threat?
Paulson stated that over 2 million people in the US became ill with antimicrobial-resistant infections each year, causing more than 23,000 deaths.
According to the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, there were more than 19,000 infections involving children in 2013. Those infections resulted in 4,200 hospitalizations and 80 deaths.
Paulson stated that the highest incidence rate in this group was for children below the age of 5.
He added that life-threatening infections are highly unusual in otherwise healthy children. Majority of life-threatening illnesses happen in children with other medical issues. However, healthy children can contract pneumonia, from the pneumococcal bacteria, which can be life threatening. In addition, they can get infections from E. coli 0157, which they may contract from contaminated meat, which may be life-threatening.
One of the primary causes of antimicrobial resistance is a particular farming method. Low doses of antimicrobial agents are added by farmers to the feed of healthy animals over long periods to promote growth, prevent disease and increase feed efficiency.
These non-therapeutic uses are partly responsible for resistance and often make antibiotics ineffective when doctors require them to treat infections in humans. Children, especially, are at risk.
What parents need to know
Paulson suggested two immediate precautions parents can take.
They can purchase poultry and meat that has not been raised using antimicrobial agents, or they can work with others to demand the elimination of antimicrobial use in farm animals except to treat disease.
The report authors highlight that a lot of antimicrobial agents used in food animals are similar to or are the same as those used in human medicine.
They wrote that antibiotic agents in food animals may frequently be used without any veterinary oversight or prescription, unlike in human medicine.