“Every time we think we’ve gotten ahead of the bugs, they come back stronger and fitter,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP). It is the ability to mutate that has given rise to “superbugs” that resist some — or, increasingly, all — of the antibiotics that were hailed as miracle drugs in the last century, creating one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development today, according to the World Health Organization.
For years, experts have warned against the overuse of antibiotics in livestock and fish farming, which stave off infections in animals in crowded living conditions and also help animals gain weight faster, making them ready for slaughter sooner. The phenomenon, along with over- and unnecessary prescription of antibiotics and a lack of a new class of antibiotic drugs, have promoted the growth of resistant bacteria. As susceptible microbes are killed off, the resistant survivors thrive and multiply. Today, a growing number of bacterial infections, including pneumonia, tuberculosis and gonorrhea, are more difficult to treat because of such resistance — at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year in the U.S. as a direct result of such infections, according to the CDC.
“This scale-up in antibiotics, primarily as a substitute for good nutrition and hygiene in livestock production, is simply unsustainable and will be devastating to efforts to conserve the effectiveness of our current antibiotics,” said Laxminarayan, the senior author of a new study focusing on antibiotic use in livestock. “We already face a crisis, but continuing to use medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in animals is like pouring oil on a fire.”
“Over the last 10 to 15 years, resistance has grown from under 2 to 3 percent to between 30 to 80 percent [encountered in humans globally],”…