Are Chickens Spreading Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria?

By Amir Khan on July 12, 2012 2:01 PM EDT

chicken
A recent spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria causing hard to treat bladder infections in women may be caused by chickens (Photo: Creative Commons)

A recent spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria causing hard to treat bladder infections in women may be caused by chickens, according to a new report by ABC News. Researchers found that the drug resistant E. coli in chickens may be transferred to humans, resulting in bladder infections, mainly in women.

"What this new research shows is, we may in fact know where it's [the antibiotic-resistant bladder infections] coming from. It may be coming from antibiotics used in agriculture," Maryn McKenna, a reporter for Food & Environment Reporting Network, which conducted the investigation, told ABC News.

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Antibiotics are given to poultry to speed growth and prevent disease. I=t's not unheard of that chickens could spread antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Fluoroquinolones are frequently prescribed to humans under names such as Aelox, Cipro and Levaquin to treat bacterial infections. However, its use in poultry was increasing the antibiotic-resistance of Campylobacter, a bacterium that causes fever, abdominal cramps and bloody stools, according to the FDA. The organization banned its use in 2005.

But just how do antibiotics lead to drug-resistant bacteria?

Antibiotics work by killing susceptible bacteria, but some microbes can survive because of an ability to neutralize or avoid an antibiotic. Resistant strains, either naturally or through mutations, survive, multiply and replace bacteria destroyed by antibiotics.

"Bacteria that were at one time susceptible to an antibiotic can acquire resistance through mutation of their genetic material or by acquiring pieces of DNA that code for the resistance properties from other bacteria," according to the CDC website. "The DNA that codes for resistance can be grouped in a single easily transferable package. This means that bacteria can become resistant to many antimicrobial agents because of the transfer of one piece of DNA."

The biggest contributor to bacteria drug resistance is the over-prescription of antibiotics, according to the CDC. Antibiotics are frequently prescribed for viruses, simply because healthcare providers think patients expect them. The common cold is the most common reason antibiotics are prescribed, despite the fact that antibiotics do not affect viruses.

Bacteria transmission occurs when you do not handle raw chicken properly or if you undercook the chicken, according to the report. Amee Manges, epidemiologist at McGill University in Montreal, told ABC News that chickens are pumped full of antibiotics, so it's not surprise they are contributing to the spread of antibiotics resistant bacteria.

"We're particularly interested in chickens. They, in many cases, are getting drugs from the time that they were in an egg all the way up to the time they are slaughtered," she said.

However, Randall Singer, DVM, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota's Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, said in a National Chicken Council statement that he is unsure whether the bacteria actually originated in poultry.

"The studies in question make the assumption that humans carrying these E. coli acquired them from poultry. The strains did not originate in poultry and likely entered these farms from sources originating in human communities," he said. "Perhaps most importantly, the potential transmission of antibiotic resistant E. coli to humans says nothing about why these E. coli are antibiotic resistant in the first place. The resistances observed in these E. coli are common globally and are unlikely to be attributed to chickens given the few antibiotics available for use in poultry in the U.S."

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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